Carnegie Mellon University
March 30, 2017

Scott Keith Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Scott Keith

Scott Keith, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the McCartney Lab, was recently announced as a recipient of this year’s Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Keith's proposed research focuses on symbiotic relationships between animals and microbes, and how these relationships can impact host health, physiology, and behavior.

"While the importance of animal associations with beneficial, resident microbes, particularly those occupying the gut, are now well known, the mechanisms by which these microbes impact host biology are poorly understood," Keith said. "I specifically aim to discover molecular mechanisms linking the activities of microorganisms in the metazoan gut to animal brain function and behavior, using Drosophila melanogaster as a model."

The plan is to approach this question from the perspective of both the microbe and the host, simultaneously. Using a combination of culture-dependent and culture-independent techniques to investigate the community architecture of the fly gut microbiota, Keith will determine how bacteria-bacteria and bacteria-host cell interactions affect Drosophila physiology. He will also take advantage of the genetic tractability and the wealth of genetic tools available in Drosophila, coupled with transcriptomic approaches, to identify gene expression changes in the fly central nervous system resulting from the perturbations to the microbiota.

"The identities of these microbiota-regulated genes will generate hypotheses about novel host physiological and behavioral phenotypes shaped by interactions with microbial commensals," said Keith. "Studying the relatively simple symbiosis between Drosophila and its microbiota will provide insights that help us understand more complex systems, including the human microbiome."

In addition to his proposed research, Keith is also excited to use his scientific skills to further engage in community outreach and work with students to encourage participation in biological research.

"Being originally from Pittsburgh, I have previously helped high school and undergraduate students in the area gain early research experiences, and I aim to use the new resources available and connections I’ve made so far at Carnegie Mellon to continue participating in science outreach and education," Keith said. "Fruit flies, particularly, are easy to grow and take care of, and therefore have huge potential as a teaching tool. During graduate school, I hope to use Drosophila and my research to develop new ways to get the broader Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh communities aware of and involved in biology."

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GFRP) is a highly competitive program that supports outstanding graduate students with exceptional promise, not only as future researchers but also as individuals with an ability to broadly extend the impact of their research. Keith's fellowship award continues the Department of Biological Sciences' strong track record of students being awarded or receiving an honorable mention for the GFRP.