Amazing Students Profiles

Zachary Holmes

Zachary Holmes

Zachary Holmes, a senior majoring in ecology and biology, is already working in two research labs and is well on his way to his goal of solving global ecological problems.


Atlanta, Ga.

High School:

Lakeside High School

Degree objective:

B.S. in ecology, B.S. in biology

Expected graduation:

Summer 2014

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

The University of Georgia has presented me with ample opportunity to discover my interests and to develop myself as a research ecologist. Early on in my college career I decided to test the waters of scientific research and I have never looked back. During the summer after my freshman year, I was selected for an internship with Odum School of Ecology professor Jeb Byers. During this summer-long internship, I lived on Skidaway Island and assisted with research on the ecology of oyster reef communities. The following year I received funding from the National Science Foundation to augment my previous research with an investigation of the role of bonnethead sharks in oyster reef communities. I was able to present this independent research at the Odum School of Ecology Graduate Student Symposium, the UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities annual symposium and the national Benthic Ecology Meeting in Savannah. My third summer I was selected for an internship at Long Island University conducting research on parasites of marine snails. I have been accepted to present this research at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Austin, Texas, this year.
In addition to my ecology research, I have worked for more than two years at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases in the lab of Boris Striepen. I am involved in research on the apicocomplexan human parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Under the guidance of Lilach Sheiner, I have worked toward developing novel drug targets for the treatment of toxoplasmosis and the closely related malaria parasite.

A truly pivotal moment in my academic career occurred during a trip to Costa Rica when I was named an Honors International Scholar. As a part of the Tropical Ecology study abroad program, I studied chytrid, a pathogenic fungus that infects and kills amphibians. This highlighted for me the relevance of disease both in human health and in environmental conservation. This ecological perspective, combined with my experience working in a genetic parasitology lab, has encouraged me to pursue a research career investigating ecological drivers of diseases.
Apart from academics, I have been involved with a variety of student organizations during my time here at UGA, including the Ecology Club, UGArden and Gameday Recycling. I now serve as treasurer for the Georgia Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology, a global network of outreach organizations devoted to service and education.

Current Employment:

I am employed at two very different research labs here at the University of Georgia. I work for Jeb Byers in the Odum School of Ecology as a research assistant. I am assisting with the identification and quantification of small, benthic animals collected during an experiment on the effects of the invasive seaweed Gracilaria. I also work for Boris Striepen at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. I am assisting on a project involving the four-membrane translocon protein-import system in the apicoplast, an organelle absent in human cells.

Family Ties to UGA:

I’m the first in my family to bleed red and black.

I chose to attend UGA because…

… of the Odum School of Ecology. As the first stand-alone school of ecology in the country, the Odum School has set a precedent of excellence and academic rigor in the field of ecology. My time at the Odum School has given me the personalized and supportive experience of a small school while simultaneously allowing me access to the resources of a major research university.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… relax by the turtle pond, attend lectures and eat lunch downtown.  UGA has many incredible seminars and lecture series, including speakers hosted by the ecology school and the biomedical research center. I always anticipate my favorite lecture series in February—Darwin Week. When I’m not in class or attending lectures, I love to spend some solitary time by the turtle pond on South Campus or grab lunch downtown at Taco Stand with my friends.

When I have free time, I like…

… running, biking, camping and hiking. There’s no better way to relax and wind down than to go outside and get some exercise. Whether it’s biking through North Campus, going for a run through the Oconee Greenway or skipping town for some wilderness, I can never get enough fresh air. I’m also an avid reader and love to grab a book and my cat and sit on the front porch.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

… go swimming with alligators in a saltmarsh during a lightning storm in an attempt to scare a shark into a net.

My favorite place to study is…

… my house. I work best on my couch with a cup of coffee in hand and my cat by my side.

My favorite professor is…

… Jeb Byers. I first had Dr. Byers as a professor for his Honors course Ecosystems of the World my freshman year. Since then, Dr. Byers has become a mentor and a friend and has guided me toward my goal of becoming a research ecologist.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… Neil deGrasse Tyson. While Dr. Tyson is known best for his love of astrophysics and scientific facts, what I find most impressive is the way that he conveys his knowledge and genuine interest to the public. We have reached a point in scientific progress where information is being generated much faster than it is being dispersed or consumed by the public. Our priority must be to increase the public’s understanding and comprehension of science. I aspire to be the Neil deGrasse Tyson of ecology.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… spearhead international efforts to further space travel technologies and successfully terraform Mars and Europa.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… purchase large tracts of land and set them aside for conservation. I would focus on tropical rain forest and cloud forest ecosystems. This would also give me the excuse to spend more time in my favorite ecosystem.

After graduation, I plan to…

… conduct research on the spread of Lyme disease into southern Canada with a Fulbright scholarship or pursue a master’s in tropical ecology with the European Erasmus Mundus Programme. Ultimately, I will enroll in a Ph.D. program in disease ecology and apply for a position with the CDC, NIH or WHO.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… my first Ecology Club camping trip my freshman year.