Steve Reilly-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, April 17, 2009

Steve Reilly

May 2009 Graduate, B.S. in Biological Sciences

“A biological sciences degree with all of its challenging coursework and research makes you know that you can handle anything that is going to be thrown at you in the future.”

I enjoy that I was able to become heavily involved in science as soon as I stepped onto Carnegie Mellon’s campus. My coursework began with a wide range of science, instead of a lot of humanities and extraneous courses that are required at other universities. I also started research as a freshman within Dr. Javier Lopez’s laboratory and I continue to work in his laboratory to this very day, where I study recursive splicing.

Splicing helps explain why humans differ from other organisms in complexity, yet contain relatively the same number of genes. It is a process that modifies RNA by removing introns and joining exons. Recursive splicing differs from splicing in that some of the removal sites are located in an unexpected location, the middle of the introns.

In particular, I have been working with a type of small fly, Drosphila, to delete one such recursive splice site in a gene called Ultrabithroax (Ubx). Currently I am studying the effects of that deletion to try to figure out what purpose these recursive splice sites may be playing in the many animal genomes thought to contain them. In the end, I found that deleting the site changes a significant physical characteristic of the fly. The halteres of the fly, little knobs of tissue used to measure acceleration, experience a partial transformation into a second set of wings. No one would have expected the end result years ago, because this site is located in the non-coding part of the RNA that eventually gets thrown out before a protein is made.

Besides research, I am involved in BioSAC (Biological Sciences Student Advisory Council) and I have overseen the creation of the organization’s Carnival booth for the past two years. This year, the booth is Darwin-themed in celebration of his 200th birthday. It will include a “Wheel of Natural Selection” game.

Additionally, I enjoy the arts. I am a member of the Photography Club and blow glass in my spare time. When I came to Pittsburgh, I was very surprised to find a really big art scene. I grew up in-between Philadelphia and New York, so I was used to going to concerts, plays, and art shows. Therefore, I knew that I wanted to come to an urban campus for college. At Carnegie Mellon, I found the urban and art environment that I was looking for.

Over the past few months as I have been interviewing at numerous graduate schools, I have really learned the value of a biological sciences degree from Carnegie Mellon. Undergraduates here are very well respected. The culture of the department is welcoming and the faculty work hard to cultivate a non-intimidating environment, where students can talk to them about science or anything else that has been going on. This, paired with my research experience, enabled me to easily converse with the professors that I was interviewing with on a level that not many other interviewees could. I know that I am prepared for grad school, because of my biological sciences degree from Carnegie Mellon.

In the fall, I will be a graduate student in the Molecular, Cellular, Genetics, and Development program at Yale.