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OU student receives MaGNET Award to present research at international genetics conference

Daniela Meson De La Fuente

Bioengineering student Daniela Meson De La Fuente is pictured with the research poster she presented at the 2024 Maize Genetics Meeting.

Oakland University student Daniela Meson De La Fuente recently presented research at the 2024 Maize Genetics Meeting, an international conference that brought together researchers whose work advances the field of maize (corn) genetics and breeding.   

The sophomore bioengineering major attended the meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina after receiving a MaGNET Award, a competitive travel grant aimed at members of underrepresented groups. 

“I was extremely excited when I received the news, as only five undergraduates received the award from hundreds of attendees,” she said. “This award was funded by the National Science Foundation to create diversity in our future researchers.”

As a member of Dr. Shailesh Lal’s research laboratory, Meson De La Fuente is researching a gene that exists in corn and humans, serving important functions for both.

“Our laboratory’s prior work led to the discovery of a novel RBM48 gene in maize, which was later found to be homologous in humans,” she said. “A mutated RBM48 gene can lead to developmental defects in both maize and humans. It is likely that this gene is associated with developing diseases, including cancer.”  

While working in the lab, Meson De La Fuente has been mentored by Dr. Lal and graduate student Dalton Raymond. 

“Dalton has been my mentor since the summer of 2023, when I was accepted to be part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP),” she said. “He had been working on this research project since I joined the lab team, and I helped him continue the project.” 

She also credited Dr. Lal for encouraging her to apply to SURP, as well as for the MaGNET Award.

“He exemplifies a professor who goes above and beyond to ensure his students have everything they need to achieve their goals,” she shared. “I like that Oakland University has countless opportunities for undergraduate students to explore their interests by getting involved in research, something that is very rare and unique to be available for an early-career student.”

To receive a MaGNET Award, Meson De La Fuente submitted a detailed application, including information about her research, academic performance, career aspirations and a recommendation letter from Dr. Lal.

"Daniela is a dedicated student who excels in academic and extracurricular activities,” said Lal, professor and chair of OU’s Department of Bioengineering. 

He lauded her strong leadership qualities, including her roles as an OU Student Congress legislator, treasurer of the OU Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, member of the OU Chapter of Sigma Xi Scientific Society, and member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. 

 “She has a bright career ahead of her in whatever she decides to pursue,” Lal added.

At the conference, Meson De La Fuente presented her work on developing a method to discover the cause of the RBM48 gene mutations associated with human disease. The data generated from the study could help pave the way for development of treatments for certain cancers.

Along with sharing her research, she also learned from other student researchers and gained insight into how companies are leveraging the latest advances in agricultural science. 

“I had an amazing experience at the meeting. I not only got an inside view of how other student presenters came about pursuing a master's or Ph.D., which was very helpful, but I also had the opportunity to connect and network with businesses such as Syngenta and Corteva, Inc. and learn about their innovative agricultural projects,” she said. “I met people from universities worldwide, which broadened my perspective on collaboration opportunities in research.”

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