A Hunger for Change - Nicole Thaner Nichol '06

A Hunger for Change

Nichol on the Muck Farm, one of MSU’s research facilities
in Bath, Mich. She is taking data on emergence
(how many buds have sprouted).
Nicole Thaner Nichol '06 went from the science lab to being part of the solution for an ongoing international crisis that claims the lives of 13,000 children per day. Nichol is a biologist working toward her PhD at Michigan State University (MSU) and she’s conducting research that she hopes will help eradicate world hunger.

Aside from her general duties as a graduate student and graduate teaching assistant at MSU, Nichol spends her time in a potato field. She is engineering potatoes for drought tolerance using a transgenic approach—introducing a gene into potatoes that helps the plant maintain the water content in the cells to tolerate drought stress.

Her work builds on research she conducted as part of a Saint Mary’s course on economic botany, throughout which she theorized that it would be beneficial to integrate more protein into rice grains since it is estimated that half the world’s population subsists on rice. The idea hooked her on molecular biology and she began planning a career in either industry or academia where she could both teach and continue her research. 

Nichol’s plant breeding and genetics research has always been focused on topics that will make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. Her work is inspired by the Bible story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes, by the idea that one can always expand upon the resources at hand. She attributes that inspiration in part to her Saint Mary’s education. 

“If it hadn’t been for the liberal arts education, I don’t know if I would be looking at basic science questions with the intent to apply those to global issues and understand the broad implications of my works,” says Nichol.

Nichol chose a career in plants because it’s how she could best apply her skills to solve one of the world’s major problems. “My experience at Saint Mary’s made me want to go out and find a way to feed and nourish the world, and I still believe that I can be part of the solution to world hunger.”