Student Feature: Nicole Odzer

Katherine Wu


Nicole Odzer is an exceptional high school senior from North Miami Beach, Florida.

She became interested in science during a middle school science fair, which prompted her exploration of marine biology. She studied corals specifically, developing a project which she has modified and continues to this day at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center. During her junior and senior years in high school, she has been focusing on studying the effects of naphthalene, a major hydrocarbon in crude oil, on Porites divaricata coral. In her words, “Examining the individual hydrocarbons that make up crude oil, and not only the crude oil itself, is crucial to prevention since every proprietary petroleum has different makeups.  Just studying one crude oil won’t truly give the full picture for all oil spills and pollution events, including petroleum runoff from on-land consumption.”

Nicole has also diversified her studies through the Student Scientific Training Program (SSTP) at the University of Florida and the Research Science Institute (RSI) program at MIT. At SSTP, her final research paper was the Characterization of H-1 Parvovirus Receptor Binding Interactions: Mapping viral receptor proteins as potential vectors for targeted cancer therapies. The following is an abstract of her paper:

“The rodent parvovirus H-1PV has raised interest as a possible candidate for cancer therapy due to its inherent preference for binding to and killing cancer cells, and its ability to replicate autonomously. Understanding the life cycle of this virus, including the initial binding to cell surface, is vital to the expansion of this research topic. It has previously been shown that sialic acid (SIA) commonly functions as a receptor for H-1PV. Structural and cell binding assays have shown that H-1PV mutants I368S and H374R are defective in cell binding. The goal of this project was to purify the wild type and H374R mutant capsids, and to confirm the specific SIA binding sites of the H-1PV by glycan array screening. In addition, differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) was conducted to assess the use of this technique to compare the receptor binding ability of wild type and mutant capsids. The viruses were produced using a baculovirus construct containing the VP2 genome to infect Sf9 insect cells. The virus capsids were successfully purified using a combination of freeze/thaws, a 20% sucrose cushion, a sucrose step gradient, cesium chloride gradients, and ion-exchange chromatography. SDS-PAGE gels and electron microscopy confirmed the presence of pure and intact capsids, respectively. The DSF experimental results did not detect a difference in melting temperature for the H-1PV wild type capsids in the presence of SIA.”

Nicole’s RSI research was titled Genetic Modification of the araBAD Operon: Optimization of Protein Expression in Escherichia coli for the Engineering of Novel Biological Pathways in Synthetic Pharmaceutical Development.

“The araBAD operon in Escherichia coli has been studied extensively for uses in synthetic biology. The PBAD promoter of the operon exhibits tight regulation of expression, which makes it useful for the creation of biological systems in which leakage is undesirable. However, due to its stringent control, varied concentrations of the inducer, arabinose, are needed to achieve a range of protein expression from the operon. Since intermediate expression levels can be optimal for use in applications such as drug production, the promoter region was genetically modified to achieve a range of protein expression with a single concentration of arabinose.

A recombinant plasmid, pRSI9, was used for mutagenesis of the PBAD promoter. Employing a two-pronged approach, pRSI9 was constructed using both restriction enzyme cloning with ligation and restriction-free cloning of the pKD3 plasmid vector and pSLD79 plasmid insert. The plasmid was transformed into E. coli competent cells and mutagenized with QuikChange site-directed mutagenesis. The cells were induced with arabinose and a glucose control, and differences in protein expression were evident among the different mutants. These results can be useful to further understand the PBAD promoter and its uses in synthetic biology applications, particularly biological pathways for drug development.”

Nicole has recently been faced with the college admissions process, and all of her hard work has definitely paid off! She has been accepted to some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Stanford, and many others.

Her advice to students in the college process is, “Applying to colleges is a very stressful time for a lot of students, myself included. I am always envious of those who can go through this process relatively calmly. The biggest thing I struggled with, which I think is a problem for many students, is truly understanding that things will work out for the best for you. I know that sounds super cheesy, and that you probably hear it a lot from adults, but it’s really true. I was deferred early action from where I thought I definitely wanted to go, and it was really difficult for me to get past that at first. Having your first college decision not be an acceptance can be emotionally tough, especially when the majority of other decisions don’t come out until 3 months later. It can be an agonizing time to wait. However, things really do work out. Since I got deferred, I’ve received offers from multiple other schools that were at the top of my list, and I truly believe that getting deferred has actually enabled me to be more open-minded and think more critically about which school could be the best for me! No matter what happens, there really is a place that is best for you! It is also very likely that you’ll end up with choices to make, which (trust me) can be equally, if not more, stressful!”

The Scientific Student Magazine can’t wait to see the future accomplishments and awards in store for Nicole! As a well rounded, talented individual, Nicole is also accomplished in theater, where she has participated in over 15 productions. She also enjoys playing the viola. In the future, Nicole wishes to major in a biology related field in college and to pursue either a PhD or MD-PhD to continue her love of research in biology. We wish her the best of luck in the college decision process and hope she continues to pursue her passions with the same amount of abundant energy.

Editor: Shreya Singireddy