Undergraduate Biology Student Researcher: Anna Ferkul

Anna Ferkul

Anna Ferkul is pursuing a B.S. in Microbiology & a Psychology minor.

Anna’s Research at KU

“I study HSV-1, which is a really common virus that causes cold sores. Actually, there's estimated to be 3.7 billion people worldwide that have it. I study host proteins called PARPs and I'm trying to see how HSV-1 replicates in the presence and absence of these PARPs.”

How did you first become interested in HSV-1 Research?

“I was actually a biological chemistry major before my sophomore year, then I took Dr. Hotze's microbiology class and fell in love with the way she presented research. I've always been someone that really likes to find the meaning of everything and figure out how things work, so I switched to microbiology and fell in love with it.”

How long have you been working on this research and how did you find the opportunity?

“I started in [Professor Davido’s lab] in  October of 2022, and I had a learning curve, so I didn't really start my own project until December. I had a lot of learning to do on the lab front, especially with cell cultures -- viruses are very, very different than bacteria and everything you learn in class.

The project I work on is actually a collaboration with Dr. Fehr's lab -- they're looking at the same things in regard to coronaviruses, while I’m looking at it in regard to HSV-1.”

What does your research look like on a day-to-day basis?

“I come in at the beginning of the week and plan the experiments I want to do. I have a lot of lab chores as an undergrad, so I do a lot of keeping the lab running, keeping things sterile, doing a lot of autoclaving.

I try to keep up with my schedule, but for our lab, a lot of the work depends on when our cells are ready. A lot of that work is taking care of cells and making sure they're alive and thriving, so we can then do experiments with them and adding the [HSV-1] virus.”

“The cell lines don't start with the virus in them -- so when we add the virus, the time it takes for the infection to develop just kind of depends. For my experience, it's usually a three day process. I infect the cells and wait three days and then I can count plaques and find the titer based on like
my dilutions.”

Have you made any discoveries?
“Recently we've had some really cool findings in the research that I've been doing. I have three different cell lines, one of them has PARP14, the host proteins, then two of them are knockout so they don't have the PARPs proteins. We found that in the cells that don't have the PARP14 proteins that HSV-1 can replicate much better and we see a lot higher titers in those cells. Now we're going to try to figure out what exactly in the PARPs are affecting viral replication.”

What did you find most challenging about doing your project?
“For me the biggest challenge has been just having patience. A lot of stuff is not going to work the first time you try it, and that's just what science is. I've been trying to titer this same virus for the last four months and it hasn't worked yet. So, being patient and bouncing ideas off of people and not being afraid to ask for help has helped me a lot.”

What advice would you offer to other students?

“I think school-wise, my advice would be to have hobbies outside of classes. I know I struggled with that my first year where I really just wanted to study and do everything as a Pre-Med, but I found that if I have hobbies and I'm doing things outside of class [the better off I am]. For example, I coach volleyball and I find that that's really helpful for me.

In the lab, my advice would be ‘don't be afraid to ask for help’. Everyone’s there to support you. The [Lab Mentor] chose to let you join the lab for a reason, they're always willing to help and teach you and guide you on your experiments.”

Anna Ferkul with other students at conference

What do you plan to do after you graduate from KU?
“I’m hoping to get a Ph.D.! Right now, I'm really interested in the Cell Biology and Physiology program at KU Med.”