Saturday, December 1, 2012

By Tara Roberts

Kali Turner loves spending time in the lab – and during her years at the University of Idaho, she’s worked in three.

Turner graduates this winter with a degree in biological sciences, but she will stay in Idaho for a semester to complete her research before heading across the world for even more hands-on experience that she hopes will lead her to a future helping humans fight disease.

Turner graduated from high school in Elmwood, Ill., but came to the university because of family ties – her parents are Vandal alumni.

She has talked to friends back in Illinois who say they could never dream of working as an undergraduate in one university lab, let alone three. But her time at the university has taught Turner the ins and outs of lab work, and she’s gotten to know her lab directors outside of research as professors and mentors as well.

Though Turner’s research has focused primarily on fish, she now has her sights set on working in the field of pathology.

“I think bacteria and viruses are intriguing,” she says. “They’re something we don’t know much about, but they infect so many people and organisms – they have a huge impact on life.”

Her summer plans are in line with this goal: She hopes to spend a month in Malawi, Africa, working at an AIDS orphanage with her grandfather.

“It will be interesting being part of the bigger picture, beyond lab work,” she says.

Strangely enough, Turner and her grandfather share an interest in fish as well as Africa. He spent 10 years working in Malawi as a United Nations fisheries biologist when Turner’s father was a child. Lake Malawi is home to more than 1,000 species of cichlid fish, so it’s an ideal place to study fish diversity.

Turner’s present research focuses on cichlids, and she just got a new batch of them settled into biology professor Jim Nagler’s lab, where she will continue working in the spring. There, she studies the effects of water temperature on cichlid reproduction.

“With global warming, water temperatures are expected to increase, and that could have an effect on their breeding success,” Turner says.

Turner first worked in a lab as a sophomore, studying the evolution of plasmids, a type of DNA molecule, before deciding to move on to more tangible work with fish.

In addition to her cichlid research, she will continue her work in fish and wildlife professor Ken Cain’s lab, where she studies diseases that affect fish in the salmonid family.

Even though she is considering a shift to studying humans, her research with any species has been a valuable part of her education.

“The amount of experience you get here at the university is great,” she says.

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