Biology undergraduate student Ava Kloss-Schmidt was featured in the UW College of the Arts and Sciences Spring 2022 Perspectives newsletter.
Last summer, Ava Kloss-Schmidt spent five days camping in central Oregon. She also made weekly trips to Mount Rainier and backpacked in the Cascades five times, sometimes bushwhacking to reach rocky alpine peaks.
On all those trips, Kloss-Schmidt was working. She was part of research teams gathering information about flora of the Pacific Northwest.
“I know it all sounds like fun and games, walking around in the forest collecting plants,” says Kloss-Schmidt, who graduates this spring with a BS in biology. “And it is fun. But it’s also hard work.“
Kloss-Schmidt has been fascinated by plants since childhood. Growing up in Seattle, she gardened with her mother and loved visiting the Volunteer Park Conservatory. She also was an avid viewer of documentaries about plants.
“Documentaries where they really zoom in on plants, I was obsessed with those when I was a little kid,” she says. “And then in high school, when I learned how plants work mechanistically, I thought it was the coolest thing.”
At the UW, Kloss-Schmidt knew she wanted to participate in plant research. She found her opportunity as a sophomore, in the lab of Adam Steinbrenner, assistant professor of biology and Washington Research Foundation Distinguished Investigator. The research team studies plant biology at the molecular level — specifically an immune receptor found in the legume plant family that allows plants to recognize when they are being eaten by caterpillars.
“When I started in the lab, I was still in introductory biology courses and really didn’t know what I was doing,” Kloss-Schmidt says. “I just threw myself into the deep end of plant immunity. I was like, ‘I have no idea what’s happening, but maybe I’ll figure it out.’”
She definitely figured it out. Kloss-Schmidt now runs her own project in the Steinbrenner lab, creating a new legume line that lacks the immune receptor found in other legumes. Her hybrid plant will be an important tool for further research into legumes’ immune recognition system. Scholarships have supported her work, including a Mary Gates Research Scholarship and four Department of Biology scholarships: the May Garrett Hayes Scholarship, the Usha and Rao Varanasi Scholarship, the Frye-Hotson-Rigg Scholarship, and a John and Dorothy Franco Award.