Student Research Showcase: Hadeel Khammash

How do organisms survive in environments that should kill them?

That’s the question at the heart of a joint research project between Hadeel Khammash, a senior biomedical sciences major at UCCS, and Amy Klocko, Assistant Professor of Biology.

As part of a yearlong Undergraduate Research Academy project, Khammash and Klocko are investigating a simple organism — yeast — to analyze the genetic system that allows it to survive even in hostile conditions: in this case, an environment full of salt.

As any home baker knows, too much salt can ruin a loaf of bread by slowing the yeast’s growth, or even killing it. In studying the changes in base pairs of DNA, Khammash and Klocko aim to discover what allows some yeast to persist in growing.

“The work that we are doing seems very small scale, but it can be seen in the real world with some very real diseases in humans, like macular dystrophy,” Khammash said. “Seeing how something as small as yeast being exposed to salt plates being related to something that real and large-scale is fascinating.”

To share more, Khammash answered eight questions about her research, her partnership with Klocko and her best advice for students interested in future research opportunities.

1. What was your path to UCCS and working with your faculty mentor?

Hadeel Khammash is a senior biomedical sciences major at UCCS.

I was interested in applying to graduate school, and decided that some research experience would both give me some exposure into that world and also allow me to explore if that is the path that I wanted to take. I reached out to Dr. Klocko as I was interested in genetics and I started working with her in January of 2021.

2. If you were describing your research/creative work to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

We are working with a simple organism, yeast, to analyze a genetic system that allows for organisms to survive in environments that are traditionally meant to kill them. In our research it is high concentrations of salt where the yeast are growing. We are looking to analyze and changes in the base pairs of DNA in yeast.

3. Which concept or discovery from your research/creative work most excites, invigorates or inspires you? 

The work that we are doing seems very small scale, but can be seen in the real world with some very real diseases in humans, like macular dystrophy. Seeing how something as small as yeast being exposed to salt plates being related to something that real and large scale is fascinating.

4. Describe how and why this research/creative work was started.  

In fall of 2020 a genetics lab at UCCS tried a similar experiment as the one that we are doing but the class received some very strange results, where the yeast grew in all conditions. I took all of the results from the class and tried to make sense of it and determine why this anomaly occurred.

5. What has the experience of working with your faculty mentor and fellow researchers been like?       

It has been one of the most educational and rewarding experienced that I have been through. It has shed light on what I want to do in the future and confirmed that I want to further my education in Biology. Dr. Klocko is one of the most educated people I have been able to work with, and I am able to learn something from her every day.

Pictured: A summit view of Engineer Peak rock glacier.

6. How has this work helped prepare you for your future in graduate school or your career?

I was unsure if I wanted to apply to graduate school, so I decided to get some exposure in the field before making a decision. This experience has allowed me to determine that going to graduate school is exactly what I was meant to do after graduation.

7. What has been the most memorable part of working on this project with your faculty mentor?

I have been able to learn so much in working with Dr. Klocko and I am able to learn new things in a way that I have never been exposed to in education. I am learning things in a way that I did not know that I could learn!

8. What advice would you give first-year students who are interested in working with a faculty mentor?

Reach out to a professor as soon as you can, because it is such a great and educational experience that I think everyone should take advantage of.

The Undergraduate Research Academy encourages UCCS students to expand their education beyond the classroom through participation in research and creative projects while engaging in mentorship with UCCS faculty. The yearlong collaborative research projects further students’ professional and academic development while furthering faculty members’ research program goals.

UCCS celebrates this year’s cohort of Undergraduate Research Academy student and faculty researchers. All those interested in participating should visit the Undergraduate Research Academy website for more information.