An illustration of a scientist with hair in a bun looking into a microscope, with an inset of a network of yeast and the title text "Mutations Matter"

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Denature: when a protein or other biological molecule loses its shape and can no longer function.

Protein: a type of molecule found in the cells of living things, made up of special building blocks called amino acids.

Career Path for Kerry Geiler-Samerotte

Fast Facts:

  • Number of years in school: 22
  • Favorite class / subject: Evolution
  • Hardest class / subject: Evolution
  • First Job: Ebay seller
  • Dream job as a kid: Scientist/Biologist
  • One word you would use to describe your current job: Fun

Green, cream soda topped with whipped cream served in a glass boot.

One of Geiler-Samerotte’s recent creations with yeast is cream soda. Click for more detail.

Kerry Geiler-Samerotte sits over her bubbling concoction. She carefully watches the temperature as it drops. Once it cools enough, she transfers the liquid to a new container and adds in the magic ingredient: yeast. Yeast is important for many foods and drinks such as yogurt, bread, pickled cucumbers, beer, and kombucha. After adding the fungus, she thinks about all the chemical reactions taking place. The yeast will gobble up any sugars available to them and release chemicals that modify the flavor. The “how” behind these reactions have long fueled Geiler-Samerotte’s curiosity to study the natural world.

From Macro to Micro

Geiler-Samerotte’s first dip into science was in high school, when she looked at how ants use chemicals to communicate. As she started studying them, thoughts were bubbling up in her head. How do new species of ants emerge and how do they use chemicals to help them tell different species apart? How do new species of any organism emerge? 

 She continued this line of research when she was an undergrad at Cornell University. There she was studying the European Corn Borer moth. This species has two types of females that each make unique mating pheromones. But for a new pheromone to be useful, the mates have to be able to smell it. She found that some male moths could detect both sex pheromones. This demonstrated one way that one species could diverge into two in the same location. 

A picture of the European corn borer moth.

The European corn borer moth, Ostrinia nubilalis, is a common pest of different kinds of grain. Image credit Jeffdelonge via Wikimedia Commons.

Geiler-samerotte loved studying evolution and how new species emerged. But the bigger question for her was the link between genes and the phenotypes they produce. In graduate school, she shifted her studies toward yeast and what happens to them when their proteins denature. Her first encounters with yeast… fermented…. over the years into a deep passion and appreciation for the microscopic fungus.

Microscopic Challenges

For Geiler-Samerotte, one of the most important aspects of being a cell biologist is having a healthy dose of skepticism. Many things, especially at the molecular level, need to be verified with your own eyes. While it is easy to question what someone else tells you, it’s harder to be skeptical of your own assumptions.

A major roadblock for her was getting over her assumptions about how some traits relate to one another. For instance, based on past evidence, she thought that more growth proteins would lead to more yeast cells dividing faster. But this didn’t hold true for every environment. Eventually,  she took a step back from what she expected to see and decided to dig deeper. By focusing on changes that happened across chunks of time, the answer rose to the surface. What she thought was always true was only happening at certain points in time. This change in how to approach her assumptions helped her pursue the questions she was most interested in.

A picture of Dr. Kerry Geiler-Samerotte pipetting chemicals into a flask.

Geiler-Samerotte pipetting anti-fungal drugs into her yeast to see which mutations survive.

Becoming a professor and running a biology lab has been a dream for Geiler-Samerotte ever since she was a kid. She loves to change the genes and proteins in a cell and see how it responds. So for her, this “work” never quite feels like work. On top of that, there are still so many mysteries at the molecular level that drive her curiosity. Even if she hadn’t become a researcher, Geiler-Samerotte knows she’d work with yeast in one way or another. But, she’s definitely glad she gets to do it in a research laboratory.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Career Path: Kerry Geiler-Samerotte
  • Author(s): Christopher Albin-Brooks
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: August 3, 2023
  • Date accessed: April 12, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/career-path-kerry-geiler-samerotte

APA Style

Christopher Albin-Brooks. (2023, August 03). Career Path: Kerry Geiler-Samerotte. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 12, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/career-path-kerry-geiler-samerotte

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Christopher Albin-Brooks. "Career Path: Kerry Geiler-Samerotte". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 03 August, 2023. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/career-path-kerry-geiler-samerotte

MLA 2017 Style

Christopher Albin-Brooks. "Career Path: Kerry Geiler-Samerotte". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 03 Aug 2023. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 12 Apr 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/career-path-kerry-geiler-samerotte

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
A headshot picture of Kerry Gerry-Samerotte.

Kerry Geiler-Samerotte uses yeast to study mutations and how they affect cells.

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