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In Wonder

An MBU Professor finds and shares Christ through the field of plant science

Shayani Pieris knows plants.

pierislookSurrounded by exotic plants from Egypt, Israel and Jordan, the MBU plant science professor can name them all—and note their biblical significance. The Euphorbia milii may be the plant used for Christ’s crown of thorns. The thin, grass-like plant—papyrus—was most likely used for the Pharaoh’s decrees against the Israelites.

But most impressive is the MBU professor’s overflowing joy and passion for plants—and sharing her knowledge and faith with others.

It’s that deep passion for teaching that motivated Pieris to leave ground-breaking research at the top plant science institute in the country to teach at MBU.

Pieris’ passion for plants developed as she grew up in her homeland of Sri Lanka. Surrounded by numerous temperates filled with diverse plants, Pieris was fascinated not only by the beauty of flowers—but the potential each plant brings to the world. Even algae.

Before teaching at Missouri Baptist University, Pieris joined researchers at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. There, she studied possibilities of using algae to reduce—and possibly eliminate—the need for oil in gasoline.

In order for algae to be an acceptable substitute, the single-celled organism needed to produce more lipids to absorb carbon dioxide. Pieris’ research led her to insert a human gene into the DNA of algae in an attempt to increase absorption of carbon dioxide.

In the middle of the project, Dr. Mary Vedamuthu—a chemistry professor at MBU—invited Pieris to speak to MBU’s Math and Science Club. When classes began the next school year, Pieris was introduced to students as MBU’s new plant science professor.

For Pieris, teaching at MBU was more than an opportunity for her to teach at the college level again. Even before speaking to the Math & Science club, Pieris was confident she wanted to teach at MBU, an institution that believes faith and science are interrelated.

“God set the world in place,” said Pieris. “I see God in biology; He made it all valuable.”

Pieris sees this wonder everyday and believes it is evidence of the Creator.

Integrating faith and learning is simple for Pieris—evidence of Christ is interwoven throughout science.

“What we see in biology is a lot of order,” said Pieris. “That points us to a designer. Even a single cell is elaborate—it’s complex like a city.”

The intricate design and order of flowers is a visual reminder of a designer. “I love to remind students that the order they see is a design,” said Pieris. “The more I discover, the more there is to learn.”

Pieris continues to discover more about science and signs of her creator, all while sharing her passion with scientists throughout the world—including the budding scientists seated every year in MBU classrooms.