Student researcher has good ‘molecular hands’

Kiana Imani
Kiana Imani. Marc Studer photo

By Douglas Esser
Kiana Imani said she was “really scared” after she joined the research group led by Thelma Madzima, an assistant professor of biology in UW Bothell’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.

Imani had enjoyed taking Madzima’s genetics course, but this was new. “I came in with zero lab experience, zero research experience,” Imani said.

Molecular biology research also requires a lot of precision, and Imani, a perfectionist, was scared of “messing up.”

Madzima was patient. “She’s always available when we need her. She’s supportive and made the process so much smoother,” Imani said. “Now I can be in the lab by myself and be confident. Now I understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and it makes sense.”

Corn, drought, DNA

Thelma Madzima
Thelma Madzima

Imani is proud to mention a compliment she received from Madzima. “She told me I have good molecular hands, which apparently means I’m very precise,” Imani said.

Madzima said,“Kiana sets very high standards for herself and the work that she produces and is very detail oriented, which is important for the research she is doing. Her attention to detail has contributed to her success in her research outcomes so far.”

To oversimplify, Imani’s research with the Madzima lab involves corn, drought and how genes respond. The formal title is Epigenetic Regulation of the Maize BTF3 Transcription Factor under Drought Stress.

Imani extracts DNA from plant tissue in a lab in UW Bothell’s Beardslee Building. She then compares DNA from unstressed corn with corn that was subjected to drought-like conditions in UW Bothell’s Sarah Simonds Green Conservatory.

‘The basis of life’

A Running Start student from Redmond who took classes at Cascadia College, Imani said math and science have always been her best subjects. She is majoring in Biology “because it’s the basis of all life, and it’s so interconnected with every other field. I just find it really fascinating.”

Imani also has minors in Chemistry and Neuroscience. She has taken courses in the summers to be in position to graduate in winter quarter 2020. Then, she plans to work a year or two before applying to graduate school or medical school.

Her extracurricular experiences while at UW Bothell include volunteering at the Evergreen Hospital Neuroscience Institute in Kirkland. She serves as president of the UW Bothell Biology Club and tutors at Cascadia College as well.

Undergraduate research

Maize sprouts.
Maize sprouts.

To support her work with Madzima, Imani applied for and received a Mary Gates Research Scholarship.

The financial help is definitely encouraging, she said. “I feel less stress, and I can spend more time working on my research.”

Applications for the competitive Mary Gates scholarships are accepted twice a year, and the $5,000 award is disbursed over two quarters.

Receiving the scholarship was not only financial help, it also was recognition for her, for Madzima and UW Bothell, Imani said.

“I know my research is making a difference, and it’s as much an award for her as it is me,” Imani said of Madzima. “She’s super patient, dedicated and passionate about what she does. It makes me excited to work alongside her and be in her lab.”

A comparison of DNA results.

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