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STARKVILLE, Miss.— Lucas J. Ferguson, an honors student at the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College and senior biochemistry major at Mississippi State, has been named the university’s first recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Lucas is the recipient of the 2016 Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College Outstanding Research Award due to his exemplary scholarship in the classroom and laboratory settings, which have led to numerous academic publications in top-tier journals. Lucas is among 36 selected to receive one of the most generous international scholarships awarded by the University of Cambridge. In addition to the full cost of studying at one of the world’s leading universities, the award provides additional discretionary funding.

The scholarship is provided by the Gates Cambridge Trust, which is regulated by the Higher Education Funding Council in England via the University of Cambridge. For more, visit www.gatescambridge.org.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum called Ferguson’s selection “another resounding endorsement of the fact that Mississippi State empowers our students to compete on an international scale.”

“Lucas Ferguson is the latest MSU student to make his mark by claiming one of the world’s leading higher education opportunities based on his intellect, hard work, and the educational foundation he earned at our university,” said Keenum. “Whether the scholarship is Gates, Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater, or a host of other top drawer opportunities, MSU students are competing and winning.”

Concentrating in bioinformatics, Ferguson was chosen based on academic excellence, leadership potential, commitment to improving the lives of others, and being a good academic fit with Cambridge. He participated in an interview Jan. 28 in Washington, D.C.

Also pursuing minors in computer science and microbiology, Ferguson is working to complete a computational biology certificate from MSU’s Institute for Genomics, Biocomputing and Biotechnology.

He is a 2013 graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

Tommy Anderson, director of prestigious external scholarships at the Shackouls Honors College, said Ferguson’s Gates Cambridge Scholar designation is “an indication that his undergraduate research has the potential to have global impact” and “places him in a community of scholars who are motivated to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.”

“Lucas plans to devote his professional life to combatting infectious disease, and the platform that Gates Cambridge offers him to pursue cutting-edge research is unparalleled,” said Anderson, also an MSU professor of English.

In addition to Anderson, Ferguson expressed gratitude for the guidance of faculty mentor Dr. Xiu-Feng (Henry) Wan, whom he met through the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science’s Research Shadowing program. A professor at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine,
Wan is part of a team of researchers working to improve the system for developing life-saving flu vaccines.

“Under the mentorship of Dr. Wan and various collaborators from the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine, I have been able to help answer pertinent questions related to bovine influenza D virus, which was discovered in 2011,” said Ferguson. His research endeavors and trainings have been supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Ferguson explained that the team primarily has concentrated on bovine influenza D virus epidemiology and pathology in cattle and other species, but the research focus has since developed into a study of antigenic and genomic diversity of bovine influenza D virus.

“This work is relevant to cattle considering bovine respiratory disease is the leading cause of economic loss in beef cattle production,” said Ferguson, who has co-authored articles in top-tier journals. With guidance from Dr. Seth Oppenheimer, Professor of Mathematics and Director of Undergraduate Research at the Shackouls Honors College, and travel support from the Shackouls Honors College, Ferguson has also presented his research findings at several professional conferences.

This past summer, through the Shackouls Honors Summer Research Fellowship, Ferguson participated in a six-week international research experience at the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Nanjing, China. There, he conducted research on the diversity of an avian immunologic gene in Chinese poultry.

“My experience in China impressed upon me the importance of international research and collaborations,” Ferguson said.

Aspiring to a career in academia, Ferguson said he plans to focus his graduate school and professional research endeavors on RNA viruses, the innate immune system, and translational research. Forging collaborative relationships with other scientists conducting infectious disease research is a major goal, he said.

“Being able to begin my research career as a freshman at the Shackouls Honors College at Mississippi State has made me competitive on an international level,” Ferguson said. “I hope to continue establishing myself in the international research community as a productive, collaborative and passionate scientist eager to make a difference in my realm of research.” His commitment to improving the lives of others have had social applications as well given his dedication to lobbying for the rights of LGBTQ persons throughout the state of Mississippi during his time as a high school student.

Ferguson proudly adds that his grandfather, Dr. William M. Bost, was the Director of the Bost Extension Service for 19 years.

Learn more about MSU’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College at www.honors.msstate.edu; College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and its Department of
Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology at www.cals.msstate.edu; and College of Veterinary Medicine at www.cvm.msstate.edu. Lucas’s undergraduate research training was supported by NIH NIAID 1R15AL107702A-01.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

This article was written by Sasha Steinberg and includes contributions by Sylvia Galaty.