By Amber Friedrichsen
As a senior in microbiology, Vincent Vanyo has conducted agricultural-, medical- and food science-related research to understand the impacts microorganisms have on our everyday lives. He has looked at bacteria, fungi and viruses from multiple perspectives — not just through the lens of a microscope.
“I like to explore a lot of different avenues,” Vanyo said. “Microorganisms are in our gut, they are on leaves and in plant root systems, and they are in our waterways. I am always amazed at how broadly microbiology spans and how connected it is to a lot of different disciplines.”
Vanyo is completing an independent research project in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition under the guidance of Aubrey Mendonca, associate professor, and Paulo Fortes-Da-Silva, adjunct assistant professor. He is analyzing the magnetic fields produced by high-voltage atmospheric cold plasma, a non-thermal treatment used to kill pathogens in processed foods, and its impact on cell survival.
Unlike other treatment methods, atmospheric cold plasma does not degrade proteins or vitamins and minerals, and it maintains the nutritional value of food. In addition to working with food scientists, Vanyo has collaborated with physics and engineering professors to understand the system’s mechanisms and technology.
Before this research project, Vanyo interned with Bayer Crop Sciences in St. Louis, Missouri, in the summer of 2021. He performed insecticidal trait discovery in soil that would potentially lead to genetic modifications in maize. Vanyo was specifically searching for soil microbes with genes that could prevent corn rootworm from infesting crops.
“My work was based on Bt corn, which contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis. These bacteria form crystals when they sporulate, and when rootworms eat the crystals, they turn into toxins in their body,” Vanyo said. “Bt corn contains these toxins, and if we find similar genes in soil microbes, we can use them to kill the bugs that are trying to eat corn.”
Vanyo also started experimenting with home fermentation in his free time that summer. When he returned to Ames at the end of his internship, he sought out Iowa State faculty who were starting to host home brewing workshops and expressed his interest in the program. This led him to become a founding member of Cyclone Alley Brewing, an on-campus brewery in the Food Sciences Building, and a teaching assistant for the new course, FS HN 273X: Science and Practice of Brewing.
As a result of his involvement with Cyclone Alley Brewing, Vanyo was steered toward an internship with Exile Brewing Co. in Des Moines in the summer of 2022. There, he created reformulations of one of the company’s flagship beers using domestic grain instead of imported ingredients. Vanyo said he’s been able to put his microbiology training to work at the breweries, as many of the steps in the beer-making process involve microbiology.
Throughout college, Vanyo has also worked in labs with Chris Minion, professor emeritus in veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine, and at the Doubled Haploid Facility in the Department of Agronomy. James Dickson, professor of animal science, said Vanyo’s positive personality compliments his intelligence and work ethic.
“Vincent is one of the most exceptional students I have met at Iowa State University,” Dickson said. “He has a lot of accomplishments as a student and as an individual, but he is very humble about it all. He is a great person who will continue to be an excellent representative of Iowa State for his entire career.”
After graduation, Vanyo will attend Washington University in St. Louis to pursue a doctorate in plant microbial biosciences. He believes having research experience in many areas of microbiology have thoroughly prepared him to take his education to the next level.