Kelsey Steinmetz ’25 Wins First Place for Presentation at Biomedical Research Conference

Image of Rhodes College professor standing next to student holding award certificate
Dr. Qian Shen and Kelsey Steinmetz ’25

Kelsey Steinmetz, a junior with a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB) and Spanish, recently received the first-place award for her oral presentation at the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (Arkansas INBRE) conference held in Fayetteville, AR.

Steinmetz conducts research in the laboratory of Dr. Qian Shen, assistant professor of biology. “This was the first time for a Rhodes student to receive this award in the field of biological sciences at this conference since 2010,” said Shen, who also attended the event.

Students in Shen’s lab study the human fungal pathogen Histoplasma capsulatum prevalent in soils containing bird or bat droppings in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valley. His lab focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which Histoplasma overcome host defense mechanisms to establish infections.

Steinmetz examined the effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) on Histoplasma’s growth and antifungal susceptibility. Her findings show that compared to the ambient CO2 in the soil, elevated CO2 in the mammalian hosts enhances amino acid metabolism and reduces antifungal susceptibility in Histoplasma.

“This work highlights that understanding of how Histoplasma senses and responds to elevated CO2 can potentially help develop novel antifungal therapeutics to combat this deadly fungal pathogen,” said Shen.

“I’m extremely grateful for this experience and the skills I have acquired,” added Steinmetz. “Not only has Dr. Shen been a fantastic mentor, but I also feel that I have gained invaluable insight into the research field.”