Montana State University

National Institutes of Health director features MSU undergrad on blog

April 14, 2016 -- Tracy Ellig, MSU News

Montana State University student Josh Carter holds a model of a protein structure in the Blake Wiedenheft laboratory. Carter, a double major in mechanical engineering and microbiology, says the previously unknown structure gives an insight as to how the immune system works. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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BOZEMAN – A Montana State University undergraduate’s ability to explain his scientific research to a lay audience earned him the attention of the director the National Institutes of Health, who leads the largest funding entity of biomedical research in the world.

NIH Director Francis Collins, featured Josh Carter on his blog recently that included a write-up by Collins and a 5-minute video post under the title “Curious about Computer Modeling of Proteins.”

It is part of a great spring for Carter, who was one of three MSU students to win a Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering.  

Carter, a student in the Honors College double majoring in mechanical engineering and microbiology from Watertown, South Dakota, has worked for the past three years in the laboratory of Blake Wiedenheft, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.

In Wiedenheft’s lab, Carter has been working with a team to understand the mechanisms bacteria use to defend themselves from infection by viruses. This work is laying the foundation for what could be new treatments for a host of diseases.

Carter’s research has resulted in a total of four high-impact papers. Carter is co-first author on a paper that was highlighted on the cover of Nucleic Acids Research in 2015 and co-authored by MSU graduate student Paul van Erp; was the sole first-author on a mini-review recently published in Cell in 2015 with Wiedenheft; was co-author on two papers, one of which was featured on the cover of Science in 2014 with post doctorate fellow Ryan Jackson and others, the other featured on the cover of Current Opinion in Structural Biology, in 2014 with Jackson and others.  

“This body of work represents a remarkable achievement that places Josh in a unique category of exceptionally productive young scientists,” Wiedenheft said.

“In addition to his ability to generate and interpret data, the blog post highlights Josh’s ability to communicate the importance of his work. In the last three years, Josh has helped me present our research at the Honors College Freshman Research Symposium, was selected to present his results at the National Council of Undergraduate Research Conference in Kentucky, and presented posters at the CRISPR Conference in Berlin, Germany and at Rockefeller University in New York,” Wiedenheft said.

Carter’s ability to communicate the importance of this work has also resulted in research fellowships from the Vice President for Research at MSU, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Biology program, the Irving Weissman scholarship, and the NIH INBRE program for research to improve human health.

“Josh and the other undergraduate students in my laboratory play an important role in our research efforts and there are few things as rewarding as seeing the contribution of these students recognized at the international level.

“I can’t wait to see what Josh does with his career, but I am certain that his achievements are going to make a profound impact in the world and that these achievements will continue to be celebrated by the MSU community,” Wiedenheft said.

To appear on the blog of the director of the NIH is a great compliment for a scientist at any stage of their career, Wiedenheft said.

With 27 different institutes and centers, the NIH has a budget of more than $32 billion. It funds more than 300,000 researchers at more 3,000 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and throughout the world. The NIH’s director, Collins, is a physician-geneticist noted for his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book.

In the blog’s video post on LabTV, Carter talks about how his parents, Christine and Milton Carter, encouraged his interest in science even though neither came from a science background. He also discusses the work he is doing with Wiedenheft and what it is like being an undergraduate in a high-powered research lab.

“Our lab is really welcoming to undergraduates. Everybody understands that it is science and you are going to make mistakes. Especially when you are an undergraduate because you’ve never done stuff before, but they are more than happy to help,” Carter said in the video. “That is the cool thing about science; you know when you get to a lab it is like being in a club or something because you get to be around a bunch of like-minded people who are excited about the same stuff that you are.”

Carter plans to graduate in the spring of 2017 and hopes to pursue an MD/PhD in cellular mechanotransduction with a focus on prosthetics implementation.

“Being on the blog is a great honor, but more importantly, I hope that my interview can help to inspire young, inquisitive kids to pursue a career in science,” Carter said. “The goal of LabTV is to make science more accessible to everyone, and I hope that this feature will show students that you don't need to be the child of a university professor to pursue a scientific career.”

Contact: Joshua Carter, (605) 886-7485 or carter_jjc@hotmail.com

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