Student Highlights: Ryan Bettcher


Class:  Graduate Student

Major:  Molecular Biology

Ryan Bettchler underwent the long journey from Denver to Laramie for grad school. He spent his undergrad years at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he decided to see how many majors he was allowed to have. It turns out that the answer is three with the reason being, to quote an administrator: “We will not make the font any smaller on your diploma for a 4th major nor will we print a second diploma.” The majors Ryan chose were Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Psychology. To make it more fun, he completed them in three years instead of the usual four.

After graduation, Ryan spent some time working at a toy store before joining some research labs at CU Anschutz for three years. While there, he met a visiting speaker from UWyo who convinced him to come up to Laramie to pursue his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology. In his free time, Ryan reads, plays video games, and hosts D&D sessions with his friends.


Ryan’s research deals with tardigrades, a.k.a water bears, a.k.a the toughest animals on Earth. He wants to know how they are able to survive crazy conditions such as having almost no water in their bodies, turning into glass-like little balls, and then being thrown into space. Another thing that they can survive is exposure to large amounts of radiation.

One thing that people have found is a unique protein called Dsup that we think helps tardigrades survive radiation exposure. Ryan took this gene and put it into C. elegans worms to see if it improves their ability to survive radiation exposure as well. The end goal of this is to understand how Dsup works and see if it could be used to help our astronauts (and their food) better survive the constant bombardment of harmful radiation in space.


Every year, we award fellowships to graduate and undergraduate students attending the University of Wyoming or one of Wyoming’s community colleges in order to provide them with the opportunity to do “real” research. Occasionally, we feature one of these students and their research on this blog. For more information about our student fellowships, visit our College Programs page.