Graduate of the last decade

Dan Bradford, a research technician in the Stowers molecular biology core, received the Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award, an early career award that recognizes outstanding achievements and accomplishments by graduates of Missouri Western State University. The GOLD award is one of the highest honors the MWSU Alumni Association bestows on recent alumni.

As a kid growing up in Independence, Missouri, Dan Bradford never imagined he would find himself working at a world-class research institute alongside colleagues from all over the globe. Although encouraged by his parents to attend college, Bradford never gave it much consideration and eventually ended up in a less-than-satisfying production job. It was only after his wife finally had enough of his continuous job complaints and encouraged him to think about what he would really like to do with his life that Bradford decided on a career in science. Starting with an associate of arts degree from a local community college, Bradford went on to attend Missouri Western State University where he completed his BS in biology.

It was at MWSU that Bradford caught the eye of one of his teachers. Todd Eckdahl, PhD, professor and chair of the biology department, had just graded his genetics course’s midterm exams when he approached Bradford. “When he confronted me about my midterm I thought he was going to have bad news,” Bradford remembers. “Instead, he told me I had aced it and invited me to work in his research lab.” Eckdahl explained to Bradford that only once before had a student received a perfect score on this genetics exam and that she had gone on to get her PhD from Duke University.

In Eckdahl’s lab Bradford developed a genotyping assay for paddlefish, one of the largest freshwater fish in North America and a protected species in most of its habitats. The test allows scientists to distinguish farmed from wild-caught paddlefish and to even identify individual populations. On another project, working with little funding, Bradford came up with a creative low-cost alternative to real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a powerful gene analysis technique, which resulted in his first published paper in Cell Biology Education.

Bradford credits the experience and training he received in Eckdahl’s lab for perfectly preparing him for his initial position as a research technician at Stowers. “I was able to tick off all the requirements listed in the job description the Institute posted,” he says. And although Eckdahl had encouraged Bradford to pursue a graduate degree, he knew Bradford had found a perfect fit in the molecular biology core at Stowers.

In 2013, ten years after Bradford left his lab for a position at Stowers, Eckdahl nominated his former student for the MWSU Graduate of the Last Decade Award. Eckdahl specifically noted Bradford’s participation in a project from the lab of Stowers Investigator Rong Li that involved developing a means to karyotype yeast by quantitative PCR, which resulted in a publication in Nature. Eckdahl says, “Dan is a focused and smart research scientist with an impressive co-authorship list. Not many scientists with a four-year degree can accomplish what he has accomplished.”