Name: Nancy Keller
Hometown: State College, PA
Dr. Keller’s research focus lies in genetically dissecting those aspects fungi that render them potent pathogens and superb natural product (also called secondary metabolite) machines. The Keller lab (i) elucidates molecules involved in the virulence of plant, animal and human pathogenic fungi and (ii) methods to express and characterize novel bioactive fungal secondary metabolites for drug development. Pathogenic fungi we work with includeAspergillus flavus which contaminates seed crops worldwide with the carcinogen aflatoxin, Penicillium expansum that contaminates apple with the mycotoxin patulin, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the causal agent of White Nose Syndrome of bats and the human pathogen A. fumigatuscausing invasive aspergillosis, a disease with a mortality rate ranging from 50 to 90%.
What inspired you to select your field of study?
I was inspired to go to graduate school, majoring in Plant Pathology, from my years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho (a country in Southern Africa). Many of my students and village friends would have food but it was bad quality. I became interested in food safety and how plants were attacked. I have since expanded my research to fungal pathogens of all organisms and drug discovery.
What is one piece of advice you would give to students?
Don’t give up but if the doctoral topic is really not calling out to you after enough time passes, find another topic/lab or profession. Make friends and communicate and ask for help when you need it.
When you’re not in the lab, how do you spend your time?
Time with friends, daughter and walking/playing with my dogs. Biking and just being outside in general.
If you didn’t become a scientist, what career would you have pursued?
Art. I double majored in art and science in undergrad and hope to spend more time painting/drawing and possibly clay works in future.
You have to sing karaoke, what song do you pick?
Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin songs
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Magic wand to adjust minds to be responsible and empathic to others and our planet. This is a new superpower.