NPC Grad Co-Authors Groundbreaking Research

Caiden Ingram standing on bridge in front of campus buildings.National Park College (NPC) graduate Caiden Ingram (Hot Springs, AR), and recent recipient of a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Pre-Health from Southern Arkansas University (SAU) through the SAU and NPC partnership, has reached a significant milestone in his scientific career.

A Hot Springs native, Ingram graduated from Lakeside High School in 2020. As part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, he contributed to groundbreaking research at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin during the summer of 2023. His work, 'Plasmid targeting and destruction by the DdmDE bacterial defence system', has now been published in the science journal, “Nature.”

Co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper as an undergraduate is a significant accomplishment, and being featured in “Nature” underscores the importance of Ingram’s research. The faculty who have mentored him over the years are excited to see his growth as a scientist.

Associate professor of Biology, Math and Science, Alexandra Barnard, who taught several of Ingram’s SAU biology courses, remarked, “I could tell he was a bright and curious student, and I was particularly impressed after his participation in the Research Experience for Undergraduates at UT Austin last summer. That experience notably enhanced his research skills and critical thinking abilities. He demonstrates a genuine curiosity about the natural world and readily shares ideas that demonstrate deep thinking about scientific problems.”

“This work started when researchers noticed key differences in the current pandemic strain of vibrio cholera in comparison to all its predecessors,” explained Ingram. Specifically, the bacterial defense system known as DdmDE. The study yielded insights into how this defense system operates, captured images of the system using cryo-EM, and explored the consequences of altering the interface between DdmD and DdmE.

The significance of publishing this paper extends beyond academia. Ingram shared, “It feels surreal, and it means a lot that the brief work I was able to put in led to so many newfound understandings of interactions we can’t even see with the naked eye. Making information about things we never understood before out to the public and others to spur on deeper understandings of the unknown is just incredible.”

Ingram reminisced, “At First, working with these incredible people, I felt like I was way out of my league and over my head with the project. They eased me in and taught me everything they knew and by the end of it, it felt like I had a little family. I definitely couldn’t have come back as confident without my mentor Delisa Ramos and the project lead, Jack Bravo.”

Reflecting on his educational journey, Ingram emphasized the impact of his time at NPC. “I had no direction coming out of high school and wasn’t sure what the future would hold for me. But I found my passion in the sciences and the staff at NPC helped me find it. Now with a bachelor's [degree], I feel like I can help be the change I want to see in the world. There are real issues at hand and the sciences contain the answers to those problems.”

Ingram added, “Currently I’m applying for graduate schools in pursuit of a master's [degree] in biology. I plan to keep exploring and experimenting with the unknown. Ultimately, I’d like to be an environmentalist and preserve the planet that we inhabit.”

“Just because you’re from a smaller town doesn’t mean you can’t do big things. The UT Austin mantra is what starts here changes the world, but it doesn’t just apply to UT, it applies to every individual person because change can only begin at the individual level,” concluded Ingram.