Pandemic Doesn’t Keep International Student from ISU Internship Opportunity

Agustina Palacio visiting scholar from UruguayWhile the COVID-19 virus disrupted many of our lives when it hit in the middle of March, one visiting scholar didn’t let it stop her from having a great internship at the Iowa State University Seed Science Center (ISU SSC).  PhD student, Agustina del Palacio is a microbiology major from the Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay.  She arrived in Ames in March, just days before the COVID-19 virus shut down nearly the entire country.

“We experienced some delays on my research project due to COVID-19,” Agustina said.  “But luckily, we could manage to solve the problems and I could still do what I came here for,”

Some of those delays included nearly all faculty and staff leaving campus and working from home, vendor and equipment delays, and construction on the SSC building.  But Agustina and the Plant Pathology team worked around these roadblocks with great success by being creative; wearing masks, staggering work schedules so fewer people were in the lab at a time and using technology to communicate.   

 “Agustina is a very patient and resilient person to overcome the weeks of waiting experimental protocol delays, major laboratory construction, and the constant warnings of shutdown and mostly empty hallways due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic,” said Derrick Mayfield, Pathology Lab Manager. “Her research is fun and exciting because it answers questions regarding the interactions between storage fungi and their corresponding mycotoxins on grain.”

She chose to study under Professor Gary Munkvold and the ISU Seed Pathology team because one of her doctoral advisors, Silvina Stewart, achieved her PhD in Plant Pathology at Iowa State and recommended Munkvold.

“I was very impressed with Agustina’s positive attitude and perseverance,” said Munkvold.  “I’m sure it has been a stressful time for her to be here during the pandemic and all its consequences, but she really stayed focused and accomplished a lot.”

Munkvold’s group is involved in working with Fusarium fungal species.  They are also in close contact with international working groups which makes them very up-to-date on this issue.  It was this vast experience and knowledge which attracted Agustina to this internship.

“I came here to study the effect of the interaction between different Fusarium species that are commonly found together in maize,” she said. “I am studying how the co-occurrence of them affect each other's growing and toxin production by comparing gene expression levels.”

She says she hopes she can apply all new techniques she has learned in Iowa to new types of research opportunities in the future. 

“I would like to thank Gary Munkvold, Derrick Mayfield and ISU for the opportunity of this internship,” Agustina said. “I appreciate all the time and dedication they are spending on me and my work.” 

Agustina expects to return home at the end of July 2020, but has left quite an impression in the short time she has been at the SSC.Agustina Palacio