Scientist of the Week: Catherine Marinac

Caitlin Williamson

Senior Catherine Marinac’s passion for analytical thinking has both led her to a biology major with an interdisciplinary emphasis in chemistry and given her the opportunity for research in the field of neuroimmunology.Marinac is still involved with a project she worked on the summer of her sophomore year, for a research fellowship at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The fellowship was her first taste of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“At Mayo I studied Pneumoycystis carinii pneumonia, an infection that occurs in immunosuppressed populations and is most widely known for infecting patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV),” Marinac said.

“I have been working to identify a new polysaccharide, a new constituent of the P. carinii cell wall,” she explained. “Understanding and characterizing these polysaccharides may provide us with some additional insight into possible alpha-glucan inflammatory reactions occurring in Pneumocystis infection.”

Marinac is putting together a poster on her work that she will present in Toronto in the spring, for the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society (ATS).

Currently, Marinac is doing an independent study in the field of neuroimmunology with David Hall, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Bethany Kondiles ’07.

“We are examining direct communication between players in the immune system and players in the nervous system,” Marinac said. “This line of research is really interesting because it explores how the immune system affects our mood, health, and behavior.”

Marinac is specifically examining the effect of rhinovirus, the cause of the common cold, on cytokines, which are a part of the immune system.

“It’s just another taste of research,” Marinac said. “I’m kind of seeing what my drive for research is, and seeing how much research I’d like to have in my future.”

After Marinac graduates this year, she is planning on taking a year off before she heads to medical school.

She became interested in biology and chemistry in high school. She started as a chemistry major, until she had a biology class with Beth DeStasio, Associate Professor of Biology and Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science. It was then that she realized she wanted to combine the two interests.

“I’ve always liked math, and the analytical way of thinking, so I’ve always naturally liked chemistry,” Marinac said. “It’s not a subject that comes naturally or easily; it’s something you have to work at, and I like the challenges of chemistry and biology.