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Research symposium recognizes student achievement at N.C. Research Campus

KANNAPOLIS — In 11 weeks, the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project’s 30 interns graduated from students to scientists as demonstrated by the research results shared at the third annual Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) Research Symposium held July 29 at the N.C. Research Campus.

Seven intern teams worked under the guidance of a lead researcher and a graduate mentor. Each team presented a five-minute synopsis of their research this summer. They also prepared scientific posters, a common method of sharing research at conferences, to highlight research methods and results. Fourteen posters were part of the poster competition, judged by representatives from academic and industry partners of the Research Campus. First place went to Holli Chandler, Catawba College, and Claire Thetford, N.C. State University. Sierra Bonney, Pfeiffer University, Matthew Jordan-Steele, Catawba College, and Conor Reid, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill took second place, and Aaron Trautman and Alexis Wilson, both students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, received an honorable mention.

Chandler and Thetford’s research team looked at the effect of broccoli extract on human colon cancer cells assessed by doing an assay in the cell culture lab of Dr. Slavko Kormarnytsky.

“When we started this program, I didn’t know that I could do this level of research. Our mentor (Weston Bussler) and advisor (Kormarnytsky) let us bounce ideas off them and, with their guidance, we essentially ran our own experiments,” said Thetford, a junior majoring in biological sciences.

Reid, a junior in applied science, is in his first year as a P2EP intern, but his third summer of doing research at the N.C. Research Campus. Reid’s P2EP team analyzed data from the oat genome to identify candidate genes responsible for the synthesis of beta-glucan and two phenolic compounds that are known to have human health benefits.

“A friend of mine is interning for a major research company, but she’s been washing dishes all summer. Here, we are working alongside doctoral candidates, getting a taste of all that professional research encompasses,” he said.

In addition to student presentations, guest speakers at the symposium included three of the graduate mentors, Weston Bussler and Scott Smith from N.C. State University and Richard Linchangco from University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The doctoral students shared their research objectives, including how the interns were able to assist the progression of their work. Dr. Massimo Iorrizo, assistant professor at N.C. State University, also addressed invited guests, sharing his research experience and goals for improving the health benefits of small fruits and vegetables as he begins building his breeding and genomics research program at N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute.

In the first three years of P2EP, research has focused on blueberry, broccoli, oat and strawberry. In 2016, banana and pineapple are slated to join the research agenda. Discussions are underway to add two Dole Food Company-sponsored doctoral students with scientists from Costa Rica, who visited the campus and attended the symposium.

“The program momentum is growing,” said Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, “We are excited about the addition of banana and pineapple research, two economically important, health-relevant crops, in partnership with top scholars from Costa Rica.” As this year’s symposium came to a close, there was marked excitement about the future success of the 2015 intern class and the future of the P2EP program.

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