Graduating BYU Student a Co-author in World’s Top Science Journal

Jesse was the only undergraduate student among a team of 18 researchers to co-author a paper in Nature that identified new behavior in cancerous tumors
Jesse Cobell

BYU neuroscience major Jesse Cobell graduates this month with an impressive line on his resume: Co-authored research in the world’s most highly-cited scientific journal.

Jesse’s research experience opened doors for him at medical schools. After interviews at multiple universities, Jesse decided to enroll this fall at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

As part of an internship with the National Institutes of Health, Jesse was the only undergraduate student among a team of 18 researchers to co-author a paper in Nature that identified new behavior in cancerous tumors.

The Nature paper, published in February 2012, studied a process called translocation – an event that swaps the arms of two different chromosomes. This abnormality is common in cancer, and the NIH team’s work sheds light on the process. They found that it occurs in proportion to the amount of DNA damage.

As a research intern, Jesse’s job was to conduct validation experiments and to edit the research manuscript before it was submitted for publication.

“It was really exciting being able to publish in Nature,” Jesse said. “It felt good to know that I had done real scientific work and had made enough of a contribution to be a co-author as an undergraduate.”

Jesse credits BYU professor Ross Flom with preparing him for the internship at NIH. Flom mentored Jesse in an infant development lab and wrote a letter of recommendation to the NIH on Jesse’s behalf.

After returning from his NIH internship, Jesse began researching in Dr. John Kauwe’s Alzheimer’s lab.

“Jesse is a diligent research scientist who has developed the technical skills to contribute in a meaningful way to our research,” Kauwe said. “In addition, he is more than happy to take the time to help others in the lab and has been involved in training many other undergraduates to be capable research assistants. He is a wonderful example of what a BYU student should be, I am grateful to have had him as a student in my lab.”

Jesse was drawn to the medical profession through an experience volunteering with a group of doctors and health professionals in Haiti in 2010.

“The experience gave me a lot of excitement and motivation to become a physician, and pushed me in the direction of infectious disease,” Jesse said. “I saw so much poverty and disease that it filled me with a desire to gain skills and knowledge that would allow me to help underserved areas like Haiti in a meaningful way.”

While Jesse would love to return to Haiti, he recognizes there are many places to make a difference in the U.S., where he hopes to provide service in areas including inner-cities and Native American populations.

“Infectious disease isn’t the only thing that you can help impoverished people with, but it’s especially pertinent in impoverished areas in the US and around the world,” Jesse said.

Originally published in BYU News