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Undergraduate Alexa Tyszka awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship!

a photo of a woman with glasses in a hat

Biological Sciences undergraduate student Alexa Tyszka has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship!  Congrats Alexa!

Alexa's research has focused on plant viruses, particularly cacti.  Read more about Alexa's research below:


Cactus Virus X is a plant virus (Alphaflexiviridae) that has been found to infect Schlumbergera truncata (common name: Christmas or Easter Cactus), as well as other plants within Caryophyllales. CVX and its related viruses are poorly named and their hosts are sometimes misidentified, leaving many unanswered questions about their host specificity. The name "Cactus Virus X" itself is unfortunate, because it only refers to the first identified virus on Christmas cactus (a common name). Many questions remain. Where does it come from? How common is it in nature, and how is it transmitted? So far, we have assembled dozens of complete genomes, and assessed the mismatches between viral and host phylogenies, as well as apparent taxonomic assignment errors. Further, we have compared cultivation status (whether the plant sample is grown in a greenhouse, or sampled from its natural environment), collection location, and tracking plant tissue type. Using information from notes taken during other studies, descriptions in methods sections of papers, and other metadata, it appears that sequencing information supported that only cultivated plant samples have CVX, although there are anecdotal reports (unverified with genetic data) of the virus in the wild. Using these data as well as newly discovered sequences from lab plants, we have assembled a roughly tripled dataset of cacti-hosted Alphaflexiviridae, which may be used to guide future taxonomic clarifications.


As she looks towards graduate research, she hopes to focus on plant reproduction and evolutionary biology.