Morgan Vague ’18

Non-trad bio major developed a strain of bacteria that can actually eat plastic bottles.

September 1, 2018

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Thesis adviser: Prof. Jay Mellies [biology 1999–]

Thesis: Plastic Pollution and Bacterial Solutions.

What it's about: I gathered soil samples from polluted sites in Texas and isolated three novel bacterial consortia with the ability to colonize and degrade PET plastic (the big bad plastic used for bottled water).

What it’s really about: Plastic-eating bacteria and how we can use them to combat plastic pollution!

First day of class: I was both excited and terrified.

Cool stuff: Every biology class I ever took, including intro! Spanish and German House conversation groups, climbing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Student groups/clubs/activities: Women’s rugby, Reed Mixed Martial Arts club.

Obstacles I have overcome:  I transferred to Reed from Houston Community College and entered as a nontraditional 22-year-old freshman. My hands shake but I can still do dissections and load protein gels with the best of them.

Influential book: One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick. Lt. Fick’s biography taught me valuable lessons about leadership and keeping a cool head during the most pressure-filled situations, which served me well during my time at Reed.

Concept that blew my mind: Microbiological evolution and gene expression. It’s a really beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying topic!

Favorite professors: In Microbiology, Immunology, and the Human Microbiome, Prof. Jay Mellies is so enthusiastic and approachable about his subject. His classes literally changed my life and set me on my current research path. Prof. Iliana Alcántar [Spanish 2007–17] is hilarious, passionate, and she uses a blend of music, media, and modern authors to bring the subject to life. Even though I never took a proper class with Prof. Kara Cerveny [biology 2012–], she always makes time to talk me through and offer advice on my experiments. Prof. Suzy Renn [biology 2006–] helped me navigate the bio major path.

How Reed changed me: I never thought I’d major in a STEM field or pursue research, and I blame intro bio for planting the wonderful science seed in my head.

Awards, fellowships, grants: Financial Services Fellowship, faculty commendation for junior qual performance, commendations for academic performance: 2016, 2017, 2018, Stafford Post-Bac Fellowship Award; Betty Liu Summer Research Fellowship.

Desired superpower: Flight.

Actual superpower: Wastebasket-ball.

Pet peeve: Mean people.

What’s next: Medical school or graduate school.