Meet DeShawn Toliver

Meet DeShawn Toliver

DeShawn Toliver, an undergraduate student from Fort Valley State University (FVSU), is the MU Drought Team’s new summer student. He’s majoring in plant science with a biotechnology concentration. FVSU is located in Fort Valley, Georgia with an undergraduate enrollment of just under 2,500 students. It’s a lot smaller than MU’s 30,000, but Toliver appreciates the different environment.

“There isn’t a lot of diversity at my school like there is in this program,” said Toliver. “I love that the other students in the REU program share their experiences after long days working in their labs, whether it’s a successful experiment or a failed trial, which is not always bad because we learn from our mistakes. The other students’ research is focused on doing anything from neuroscience to psychology to engineering, which gives me insight on different disciplines, and gives my mind a break from learning about my own field when I have downtime. I find it fascinating.”

Toliver worked at a lab in FVSU, but he’s never done an intensive research project – such as restoring drought-tolerance in a corn genotype that is deficient in the essential hormones needed to thrive under water deficit. But for him, the best part of this opportunity is being able to switch between the field and the lab.

“I like having the versatility,” he said. “I get a little dirty in the field, helping graduate students harvest some of their mutant plants, get some fresh air and really just enjoy the environment when I have spare time or they need an extra hand.”

When he’s not helping out, Toliver is in the lab carrying out different experiments of his own. The graduate students in his lab and on the MU Drought Team have been really informative about their research and shared the experiences they’ve had.

“I’ve learned so much since the day that I stepped foot on this campus and this team has treated me like family,” he said. “They’ve made Columbia feel like a second home. It’s been great working with such a committed group of individuals.”

He describes his lab work as a more “controlled” version of the field. The field has so many different variables, but in the lab he can control anything that is deemed important. Most of the experiments he runs deal with administering chemical hormones to the plants to stimulate growth and exposing them to drought conditions within the lab.

Toliver takes the seeds, sterilizes them and grows them in glass boxes. The seeds are planted on the edge of the boxes so he can monitor the plants growth over particular time periods. Measurements are taken after a set amount of hours to track the growth by tracing over the glass with a marker. When the time period is finished, the seedlings are harvested and data comparisons and contrasts – the analysis – is done between the varying treatments.

“It’s cool, because in the lab, we can essentially see everything that’s happening with the root system of the plant,” he said. “With the plants grown in the field, the shoot system is the only thing that is visible.”

Before he started this summer research project, Toliver toyed with the idea of becoming a pharmacist.

“Before I came here, I was interested in pharmacy and drugs – how they benefit to and interact in the body,” he said. “I actually work in a pharmacy back home in Georgia. I’m a social person and like to move around a lot, but as a pharmacist you’re closed in an area where there is not much movement. Answering the constantly ringing phone, dealing with angry patients, constantly dispensing medications, and so on. I love people, but I’m just not sure if I want to go through those same motions day in and day out for the rest of my life.”

Instead, he thinks he wants something different.

“Research is really stimulating,” Toliver said. “There is a lot more change. There are a lot more ideas. It’s more exciting with the options and variables. You can interact with other professionals that help give you a better understanding of your discipline. What I like the most is conducting cutting-edge research that can turn into a huge discovery to help the world in a significant way. I love to help individuals, but I believe I could potentially help a global population by doing research. I think that’s a lot more interesting in comparison to the pharmacist route.”

If he decides to stay on the path of plant science research, he plants to go to graduate school for a master’s degree in plant biology because it would give him a strong foundation to build upon, and later choose something more specialized for his Ph.D.

Welcome to the team DeShawn!

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