Michael Paul Ledbetter
Michael Lebdetter is a Dean’s Honored Graduate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He is graduating with a degree in biochemistry. Michael is being recognized for his research efforts in the laboratory of Professor Andy Ellington, which have culminated in an undergraduate thesis and a refereed journal publication.
Michael’s research began with the Freshman Research Initiative in the Aptamer Research Stream. He and other students in the stream were selecting nucleic acid binding species (aptamers) against biomedically relevant protein targets, such as the envelope protein from the Dengue virus.
Based on his success in the FRI stream, Michael was selected to work on an outreach project, the development of a kit that would teach molecular evolution to high school students. He adapted a ribozyme that is capable of self-replication to function in a test tube with a fluorescent readout. Michael's work recapitulated the ribozyme replicase originally developed by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute and then built the fluorescent readout. Michael was recently awarded the opportunity to present this research at the 13th Artificial Life Conference in East Lansing, Michigan and is writing up a paper on how the research and educational projects overlapped and provided new insights into the understanding of “evolution in action.” After transitioning out of mentoring for the FRI, Michael took the role of advisor to and mentor for UT’s BIOMOD team, a competition that annually pits undergraduate teams against one another in the field of DNA nanotechnology and nanostructure. Michael’s team of 10 undergraduates is working on nucleic acid circuits for diagnostics.
While an undergraduate, Michael maintained a 3.87 GPA and will graduate with High Honors. He was a mentor to other students, both in the FRI program and in research methods courses. He was awarded the Noman Hackerman Prize for Research in Chemistry and the Fortigo, Inc., Award for Excellence in Computational Biology, Biochemistry, or Chemistry Research.
After graduation, Michael will continue working in the Ellington lab as a member of the research staff while he applies to graduate PhD or MD/PhD programs next fall. He’s selected a collection of books for his summer reading, including Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.