Clair Wootan (‘21) originally came to BYU to study biology education. As she took more classes, she realized she enjoys conducting research, which led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in biodiversity and conservation. “I’ve always really enjoyed conservation,” she says. “It gave me a lot of opportunities to take really in-depth and specific classes.”
One pivotal class was plant developmental biology with professor Clinton Whipple. Wootan says the class combined undergraduate and graduate students, giving her exposure to the culture of graduate studies. “I learned so much in that class just from talking to people,” she says.
Another memorable course was forest management and ecology, taught by professor Steve Peterson. The class took trips into the forest to memorize species and explore. This experience added to Wootan’s love of biodiversity and conservation.
Wootan recently received a fellowship from the Bayer Crop Science/University of Minnesota Multifunctional Agriculture Initiative. The fellowship covers her tuition, stipends, and research in the University of Minnesota microbial biology PhD program. She was nominated for the fellowship by the department at the University of Minnesota because her research at BYU with professor Steve Leavitt on symbiotic relationships in lichen and experience with DNA sequencing matched their need.
For the last two years, Wootan has worked at the BYU DNA Sequencing Center under the direction of professor Edward Wilcox. She says the machinery used to sequence DNA and RNA is very expensive and technical, so researchers on and off campus send their samples to BYU for sequencing.
Wootan hopes to use her research at the University of Minnesota to create improved and more sustainable crops. She is most excited to work with other researchers on epigenetics and genomic editing in crop plants.