Congratulations Tautvydas! 2019 Berns award winner

Tautvydas Shuipys, a fourth year UF Genetics Institute graduate student and PhD candidate, is the winner of the 2019 Kenneth & Laura Berns Excellence in Genetics Award. Shuipys received the award on Nov. 5 at the 2019 Florida Genetics Symposium.

The award, established through the generosity of former UFGI Director Dr. Kenneth I. Berns and his wife Laura Berns, recognizes a Genetics & Genomics Program graduate student for a significant contribution to the scientific community, either a publication, or other scholarly product in the preceding year.

Shuipys was nominated by his mentor, Dr. Kevin Folta, for several research initiatives including a manuscript he was first author on, his presentation at a synthetic biology conference and an article he wrote for the Genetic Literacy Project.

In Dr. Folta’s lab, Shuipys and his colleagues are looking to use random peptides to try to find new plant growth regulators and identify vulnerabilities in plant biology that they could potentially exploit.

“Typically, you would take a library of compounds that have already been developed for other things and use chemical genomics to try to test them and see if any have effects on plants,” Shuipys said. “What is cool about the random peptide project is we’re trying to see if we can sidestep this whole process and have the plants not only produce the molecules themselves, but also be a vessel in which we can test them to see if they are bioactive. By expressing short random DNA sequences, we generate thousands of plants expressing different random peptides, which we can then screen for any abnormal phenotypes.”

Shuipys can usually be found working in the lab surrounded by plants. He frequently runs experiments, measures and observes plants and records different aspects of plant development. He primarily works with the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, due to its ability to grow quickly and be easily transformed.

“I’ve always liked plants,” Shuipys said. “My Mom had a garden in our backyard and growing up we would have tomatoes, cucumbers and more. Now my apartment is full of plants and I decided to go into this field because it just made sense for me to combine my passion for science and plants.”

Having an interest in plants is what led Shuipys to consider and apply for the UF Genetics and Genomics Graduate Program.

“It was definitely one of the reasons wanted to go here,” Shuipys said. “I saw that there were a lot of faculty doing some really cool stuff with plants and I knew I would find someone great to work with.”

Dr. Folta was Shuipys’ running first choice when selecting mentors and he believes he made the right choice in choosing to work with him.

“Dr. Folta’s made my graduate education seamless and he not only gives great advice in terms of experiments and where to take the projects, but also in other areas such as personal development,” Shuipys said. “Even with all his travel he always finds time to meet with us.”

Shuipys was pleasantly surprised to be the Bern’s Award winner this year and said that the laptop reward will help him significantly.

Berns Award winners receive $1,500 toward a new laptop, and their name is engraved on the Berns Award plaque displayed in the UFGI main office. UFGI also provides up to $3,000 to defray the publication costs for any future peer reviewed paper(s) on which the Berns award recipient is first author.

In addition to the Berns award, Shuipys received an honorable mention for his poster at the Florida Genetics Symposium.

Upon graduation Shuipys plans to do plant research in the industry sector. He hopes to work in a government agency like the USDA or NASA.

Shuipys stated that he is honored to be the 2019 Berns Award winner and is thankful for all of the opportunities the UFGI graduate program and his mentors have provided him with.