Dr. Stephanie Lauer’s research seeks to answer fundamental questions about the inner workings of DNA, information that can be used to create synthetic versions of organisms, and to study human disease. Recently, she was part of an international consortium that developed a synthetic yeast genome, creating its DNA sequence entirely from scratch.
After designing the sequence of the yeast’s genes in a computer, small fragments were assembled and introduced into yeast. Incredibly, the yeast cells are able to function and grow normally like their organic counterparts. While other scientists have synthesized viruses and bacteria, this yeast (called Sc2.0) is the first complex organism to have its genome synthesized.
Dr. Lauer and other researchers involved in the project were able to achieve this milestone with the help of a genetic engineering technique called CRISPR, which allows scientists to modify the genetic makeup of a living organism. Specifically, they used CRISPR to “debug” errors in the DNA code and to relocate functional DNA elements.
“My career goal was always to bring exciting, new techniques like CRISPR—that are quite easy and feasible to do in budding yeast—to a small liberal arts school like STAC, affording undergraduates an opportunity to try cutting-edge techniques in biology with their own hands,” Dr. Lauer says. “Doing these types of experiments with undergraduates is the most rewarding aspect of my job. I sincerely cherish the moments when students and I can connect one-on-one over our shared interest in biological research. I’m grateful to have these opportunities with my students!”
Experimenting is also an inherent part of Dr. Lauer’s teaching style. Since joining St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2022 as an assistant professor of biology, she has made it her mission to create a dynamic learning environment for her students in classes she teaches, which include Genetics, Biology I and II, and Biochemistry I and II. Before joining the STAC family, she implemented an “at the bench” independent research course in synthetic biology at New York University, where she taught as an adjunct for five semesters and previously earned her doctorate degree in biology. She hopes to recreate aspects of the independent research course she developed there through research with her STAC students.
After her experiences working with the Graduate Women in Science group at NYU, she hopes to continue working directly with female STEM students at STAC. “Studying and working in STEM fields is very rewarding, but also challenging. I’m here to support our students through the difficult moments and show them that science can be fun, too.”
Dr. Lauer’s research has been published in the journal PLOS Biology and she has presented her work at The Allied Genetics Conference hosted by the Genetics Society of America, the International Conference on Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology in Italy, and the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) in England. The SMBE named her a Walter M. Fitch Award Finalist and NYU recognized her contributions to the field with the Gladys Mateyko Research Award and Kopac Teaching Award.
One of Dr. Lauer’s fondest memories of her childhood is spending summers camping on the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware, in her family’s RV listening to the ocean waves. Now, she loves vacationing in Aruba and visiting New York City. A New Jersey native, Dr. Lauer spends her free time listening to alternative rock, attending concerts, playing board games, reading sci-fi novels, and practicing yoga.