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N.C. Research Campus gets grant for researcher’s blueberry project

KANNAPOLIS — Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology center, the N.C. Research Campus is involving students at two colleges in a cutting-edge research project.
Research on sequencing the blueberry genome will be incorporated into the curriculum at Davidson College and Lenoir-Rhyne University, in cooperation with N.C. State University at the N.C. Research Campus.
Students will be involved in identifying specific genes that can be used to produce plants with desired characteristics, as well as learning from scientists who are leading the effort to sequence the blueberry genome.
Dr. Allan Brown, with the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, was recently awarded a grant for $82,247 from the N.C. Biotechnology Center.
The grant will support a program that was pilot tested the past couple of years by Brown and Dr. A. Malcolm Campbell, a biology professor at Davidson. The two will expand the program to include Lenoir-Rhyne, with plans to involve other undergraduate programs across the state.
Brown is leading a national team that is sequencing the blueberry genome. The partnership with undergraduate programs in the state is a dimension of the project that seeks to strengthen students’ competitiveness in the biotechnology workforce.
“The beauty of this project,” Brown said, “is that it incorporates genomic research directly into the classroom and provides students the opportunity to participate in ongoing research. What we’ve learned by working with Davidson College is that their students are choosing projects that complement our research.”
Campbell oversees the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching, an international network of undergraduate faculty who facilitate undergraduate genomics research in the classroom.
With the grant support, Brown plans to work with Campbell and Dr. Scott Schaefer, assistant professor of biology at Lenoir-Rhyne University, to develop resources, tools, tutorials and web interfaces to facilitate genomic and bioinformatics education.
The funding will also help support the design and implementation of plant genomic courses at the two schools. In addition, it will be used to continue to strengthen the relationship between researchers at the N.C. Research Campus and undergraduate programs.
“We will use the data generated from the blueberry genome sequencing project to teach students how to search the genome, identify gene structure and function, and conduct comparative analysis with other plants,” Brown said. “In addition, students will learn how to identify repetitive content and other features within the plant genome. They will also conduct automated and manual annotation of gene structure.”
The project will initially involve about 20 upper level students, but organizers are looking toward ways to expand the effort statewide.

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