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Biology Master’s Student Earns Grant for Gene-editing Research

Grace Wong is studying how noncoding RNAs work to maintain fertility

Biology master's student Grace Wong presented her work last summer at the international RNA Society meeting

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University biology master’s student Grace Wong received a $500 grant from Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society's Grants-in-Aid of Research program, for her project titled “Using Breakthrough Gene Editing to Investigate a Link Between Small Noncoding RNAs and mRNA Quality Control.”

Wong is researching how a class of molecules known as noncoding RNAs work to maintain fertility in animals. In particular, she is studying a previously unknown mechanism that cells may use to recognize and eliminate messenger RNAs that contain particular types of genetic errors. If not eliminated, these types of errors can produce proteins that are toxic, which may contribute to reduced fertility.

Wong works in the lab of Villanova Assistant Professor Elaine Youngman, PhD, who is also Wong’s thesis adviser.

“Grace is using cutting-edge CRISPR-based genome engineering to nail down the relationship between genetic errors and noncoding RNAs, and has shown impressive diligence and persistence in implementing CRISPR techniques in my lab,” Dr. Youngman says. “Grace has a combination of intellectual curiosity and work ethic that give her great potential as a research scientist.”

Wong, who presented her work last summer at the international RNA Society meeting, is currently interviewing with several top PhD programs in biochemistry and molecular biology. She hopes to continue researching molecular mechanisms that underlie human diseases.

“It was very exciting and academically validating when I found out I won this award,” Wong says. “The Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid research grant gives students the opportunity to practice and enhance their skills as writers and advocates of their particular field. Winning this award motivates me to continue my work to continue to contribute to the molecular and RNA biology fields.”

Wong is one of only 24 master’s students to receive a Sigma Xi grant. Villanova also had two of the 17 undergraduates who earned grants, while 56 doctoral students received grants. In total, only 12 percent of applicants to the program received grants.

Sigma Xi is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.