Getting hooked on soybean research
For recent alumna Marissa Scherven, the chance to research a disease in soybeans was a key component of her undergraduate years at the University of Minnesota.
As a sophomore, Scherven was looking for a work-study job and found one as an undergraduate research assistant in Jim Kurle’s plant pathology lab. What started as a mundane job turned into three years dedicated to finding resistance to the pathogen F. graminearum in an effort to help secure soybean crops in Minnesota.
F. graminearum is a relatively new threat to soybean growers in the state. It’s is a fungal pathogen that affects plants by causing seed, seedling, and root rot, which ultimately may lead to significant yield loss. The goal is to find resistant soybean lines and attempt to stop F. graminearum problems before they start.
When Scherven became good at her research, it became a focal point in her academic life. She created a research poster, wrote a scientific paper, and was sent to a plant pathology symposium in East Lansing, Mich., where she was the only undergraduate presenting her research.
For three years, “I was in the lab every day. It was my first real adult job,” says Scherven, who earned a B.S. in horticulture. “It made me grow up—there was a lot of responsibility that I wasn’t really used to … and a lot of sleepless nights writing that paper and getting it edited over and over again.”
All that work sparked a new passion, and Scherven plans to return to the U of M to pursue a master’s degree in plant pathology. She’d consider working in another lab with another crop, but would prefer to pick up where she left off with Kurle and soybeans.
“The soybeans, they just get to me,” Scherven says with a chuckle. “I can’t walk away from them.”