Poplars have immense potential for removing contamination from soil, says Lauren Carley. Plus you can sing to them when no one’s looking. Photo by Matt D'Annunzio
Hometown: Closter, New Jersey
Adviser: David Dalton [biology 1987–]
Thesis: Enhancing Stress Tolerance: Ascorbate Peroxidase Overexpression in Poplar
What it’s about: Determining the role of ascorbate peroxidase (APX), an antioxidant-associated enzyme, in the ability of poplars to tolerate environmental stress.
What it’s really about: Figuring out how to improve plants of ecological and agricultural importance.
Who I was when I got to Reed: I was a shy and awkward suburban girl interested in biology.
Influential book: In a way the Presocratics in Hum 110 are the beginning of science because all these different philosophers were the foundation of different scientific fields of thought.
Favorite spot: The greenhouse is a little oasis for me. There is rarely anyone else up there so I can sing to my plants without embarrassment, and it’s bright and warm when Portland is raining.
Random thoughts: One of the great skills that students at Reed acquire is coming up with a hypothesis. Being given the liberty to ask your own questions is scary; you don’t really know where to start. But we’re required to take a wide breadth of courses and, depending on what your own interests are, you start to put pieces together from all these different fields, and questions and hypotheses emerge.
Cool stuff I did: Studied ecology in Costa Rica for a semester. Worked as a house adviser. Tutored intro bio. Gave admission tours. Was a TA for a genetics class. Getting to work closely with students, faculty, and staff was extremely rewarding and added much-needed balance to my academic life.
How Reed changed me: I have a million more questions than I came in with and feel more confident in my identity and more directed in my goals.
Scholarships, awards, financial aid: Pearl Konttas Memorial Biology Scholarship.
What’s next: I plan to hike the Appalachian Trail, get a PhD in plant biology or ecology, and have my own lab someday.
Studying the role of antioxidants and associated enzymes in conferring stress tolerance to plants has been an ongoing project in David’s lab. The same properties that antioxidants have in humans to prevent aging and disease also help prevent stress in plants. Poplars are often used for phytoremediation, to clean up environmental pollution like toxic waste spills and industrial runoff that make the environment inhospitable for other plants. Removing contaminated soil or treating it chemically is resource, time, and economically intensive. But some plants, including poplars, naturally remove toxic chemicals. One of the things that would be cool about creating stress tolerance in poplars is the ability to expand the range of remediation sites as well as being able to increase the agricultural performance for things like making paper pulp.
A Popular Tree. Not only do poplars grow quickly, their deep root systems are good for removing industrial pollution from soil. Lauren Carly ’12 discusses stress tolerance in poplars and how Reed prepares students to ask the important questions.