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Erin Muller, a senior Marquis Scholar at Lafayette College, has been honored by USA Today as one of the top 100 college students in the nation.

Muller, a biochemistry major from Riverton, Conn., was named to USA Today’s “All-USA College Academic Team” for 2000. The All-USA College Academic Team is an annual feature honoring students throughout the country who are making a difference with outstanding academic achievements and leadership roles on and off campus.

Muller was one of 40 students who earned “All-USA College Academic Team” honorable mention. Another 60 students were named as First Team, Second Team, and Third Team members.

The principal intellectual accomplishment that has earned Muller honors from USA Today is an international research project that promises to yield much-needed basic information on the biology of the flatworm parasite Schistosoma mansoni and the disease schistosomiasis, which affects at least 200 million people, many in Third World countries.

Under the direction of Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor of Biology, and Joseph A. Sherma, Larkin Professor of Chemistry, she is pursuing departmental honors in biochemistry, researching the role of lipids, or fats, in mice infected with the parasite.

Schistosoma causes serious disease,” Fried explains. “It enters the blood stream and works its way into the liver and intestinal tract. It breeds constantly, and the result is destruction of certain vital internal organs. Some two to three million people die of this each year, anywhere there is tainted water containing microscopic tadpole-like larvae released from infectious snails. The larvae actively penetrate the skin and initiate the cycle in the human host.

“By identifying lipids and how the liver becomes fatty, and the fatty degeneration which is the consequence of the parasite, Erin is helping us understand the disease and work toward a solution,” Fried adds.

The initiative spans the Atlantic Ocean. Muller’s project has brought her to Cambridge University in England, where her research partner, Laura Rosa-Brunet, a 1991 Lafayette graduate, is doing post-doctoral research.

“Dr. Rosa-Brunet sends me tissue and plasma samples from infected mice, and I use high-performance thin-layer chromatography to analyze the difference in lipid concentrations in infected and uninfected samples,” Muller says. “I wanted to learn as much as possible about the laboratory techniques involved in the project, so I used a research grant I received from Lafayette as part of my Marquis Scholarship to travel to Cambridge.”

“Such a unique opportunity for intellectual growth on the international level has truly surpassed my expectations of the college experience,” Muller continues. “I feel extremely fortunate to have learned and experienced so much through traveling, researching, and experimenting in the laboratory, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my research will help advance scientific knowledge of the biochemical effect of a widespread disease. The more that is known about Schistosoma mansoni, the more we will be able to understand its physiological effects as scientists work toward a solution.”

Muller has worked in various research projects with Fried and Sherma since her sophomore year, and has authored six articles with one or both of them that have been published in leading scholarly journals.

Sherma says, “Erin is a terrific, capable student, probably is one of the top five students I’ve ever worked with. She is very independent, and when it comes to mentoring other students, she is so wonderful.”

“Erin is a rare student,” echoes Fried. “We’ve become very close to her over the years. She is one of the finest students you could have, in that special top one percent of truly gifted students.”

“One of the things I love about Lafayette is that you are not competing with grad students for attention from faculty,” Muller says. “If you want to do research all you have to do is take the initiative, because the faculty can’t wait to work with you.”

Muller has received several major Lafayette academic awards. Her leadership roles in cocurricular activities are equally impressive, including promoting health and wellness on campus as president of a student organization called LEAD (Lafayette Education on Alcohol and Drugs) for two years.

Muller has accepted a position in the cell-culture development area of Merck Research Laboratories, West Point, Pa., where she served an internship last summer.

Categorized in: Academic News