ANACONDA - Practice what you teach.
Anaconda High School biology and anatomy teacher Kate McElroy keeps plenty busy outside her classroom.
Science is more than her job; it is her passion.
McElroy received a $15,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in 2009, covering two summers of microbiology research at Montana Tech.
A supplemental grant of $7,000, awarded in March, will help pay for the supplies and resources to make that work a part of her curriculum back at the high school.
"I want my students to have an appreciation for science like I do,"
McElroy said. "Sometimes I think we lose focus on what real science and real research are."
Both grants came from the Murdock Partners in Science Program, aiding high school teachers in the Pacific Northwest.
Looking to beef up her own science skills, McElroy took an interest in the program and proposed sampling water from the mounds near Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs for extremophiles - organisms that thrive in conditions too harsh for most life.
Alongside Marisa Pedulla, associate professor of biology at Tech, they found three unique bacteria similar to rod-shaped bacillus. McElroy then isolated one of the three, which she believes they are the first to discover.
"The original goal was to see what organisms live in that water that may not have been studied before," McElroy said.
Named "L2," the bacteria secrete an enzyme called polymerase that is used to copy DNA. By further isolating the polymerase, they can look at its properties to see how it can be applied in that reaction, McElroy said.
If successful, it could expand the types of polymerase available to forensic scientists and anthropologists, Pedulla said.
"That's what makes it worth studying in depth," she said.
Pedulla first met McElroy in 2007 at a workshop through the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, and described her as someone who is enthusiastic to keep learning.
Pedulla started attending McElroy's AHS classes through the Tech biology department outreach, and suggested she apply for the Murdock grant.
"I just respected her ability to teach and bring microbiology knowledge and understanding to the high school level," Pedulla said. "Clearly, she is mentoring her students and providing a huge service to Anaconda's youth."
Working together on "L2," Pedulla said McElroy took charge as a leader and role model to her own undergraduate and graduate students.
Researching at Tech also prompted McElroy to earn her master's degree in microbiology, which she will finish in August.
The fruition of McElroy's efforts is to take what she has learned back to her students, she said.
Students will essentially repeat her first summer of research, she said, and have the opportunity, like her, to observe organisms never before observed.
"The kids really get excited about it," McElroy said. "It asks the important question of what is in our biological world."
- Reporter George Plaven may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.