Cheryl A. Kerfeld, an Adjunct Professor at Plant & Microbial Biology, has won the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education. Kerfeld is a structural biologist and the head of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute’s Education and Structural Genomics programs.
“The integration of bona fide research and development of critical thinking skills into undergraduate education has no greater or more effective advocate than Cheryl Kerfeld,” said Kathleen Scott, an associate professor at the University of South Florida, who supported Kerfeld’s nomination for the award.
Colleagues underscore that Kerfeld has pushed the envelope for education both in the classroom and on the national scale.
“She is tireless in providing opportunities for authentic research projects with genomics in silico and wet lab projects,” said Cheryl P. Bailey, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “and she continues to advance the field of structural genomics.”
Kerfeld, who has bachelor’s degrees in biology and English, a master’s degree in English and a doctorate in biology, developed and directed the University of California, Los Angeles Undergraduate Genomics Research Initiative.
“Cheryl has overcome the intimidating nature of DNA sequencing and genome annotation using the how-to-eat-an-elephant strategy,” explained Christopher Kvaal, an associate professor at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota and one of Kerfeld’s nominators. “In the case of DNA sequencing of the Ammonifex degensii genome at UCLA, Cheryl broke up the work into different undergraduate classes that fed each other: One course isolated DNA, another cloned fragments of the genome, and another performed the (polymerase chain reaction) and operated the DNA analyzer.”
Today, Kerfeld leads the JGI’s effort to develop educational programs and tools centered on large-scale DNA sequencing and its bioinformatic analysis and serves as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
At the JGI, she conceived of and oversaw the development of an electronic resource and website for use by undergraduates annotating genomes. The Integrated Microbial Genomes Annotation Collaboration Toolkit, or IMG-ACT, is now being used at more than 65 educational institutions.
“Based on her own research, Cheryl knows that genome annotations are only as good as the experiments they inspire to test bioinformatics predictions. The holy grail is a national undergraduate effort to connect sequence annotation to functional genomics, and Cheryl is the leader to make it happen,” said Brad Goodner, a professor of biology at Hiram College in Ohio.