Academics and Research

Biology alum seeks to continue high-caliber research

The University of Denver’s biology department is home to state-of-the-art labs filled with graduate and undergraduate students who join their professors in performing high-caliber research. Biology is the largest undergraduate major at the University — 518 students as of fall 2014 — and every biology major has the opportunity to conduct hands-on research with the guidance of faculty members.

Recent alumnus Ryan Holly (BS ’14) attributes his decision to pursue a career in molecular biology to his experience in Associate Professor Todd Blankenship’s lab. When he began at DU, Holly was a biology major intent on going to medical school. Holly began working in Blankenship’s lab as a first-year student, cleaning dishes and doing basic preparation. Under Blankenship’s leadership, Holly had begun collaborating with upperclassmen and graduate students in research projects by the end of his freshman year. He had embarked on his own experiments by his junior year.

“Professor Blankenship is a great mentor,” Holly says. “He’s always asking questions and challenging me.”

By the end of his junior year, Holly had decided against medical school and had turned his focus to research. He earned a DU Partners in Scholarship grant to continue his research over the summers and is now in the process of applying to graduate schools.

Holly’s research focuses on understanding the regulation behind how cells divide — work that may have applications for cancer studies. The outer surface of the cell — the plasma membrane — must reorganize to generate two distinct cells after chromosomal division. Since all tumor cells divide without regulation, uncovering the basic regulation behind cell division can lead to groundbreaking discoveries in cancer research.

Blankenship has seen how experiential learning can help students find their passion, and Holly, he says, is a prime example of an undergraduate student who has taken advantage of the distinctive hands-on opportunities available through the University.

“During his time in my lab, Ryan grew a passion for the research,” Blankenship says. “It’s rewarding helping students to be successful.”

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