One more year of dissertation writing and graduate student Samantha Case will earn the right to add “PhD” to the end of her name. Case’s journey from undergraduate biology major to budding scientist is defined by blueberry and broccoli metabolomics research and the experience of simultaneously mentoring summer interns as part of the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP).
Case was one of the first graduate mentors to participate with P2EP, a research-intensive scientific training program at the NC Research Campus (NCRC) that launched in 2013.
Case said it was both “overwhelming and challenging” to begin graduate school at the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), located on the NCRC in Kannapolis, and mentor interns in the same summer. She and the interns were both learning cutting-edge research techniques for the first time.
“However, it made me more comfortable with admitting when I didn’t know something,” Case said. “We would look it up together and then sit down and theorize.”
All about blueberries
Measuring blueberry samples, looking for specific metabolites, and developing a base metabolome are important parts of Case’s research. Building off of the renowned blueberry research of Mary Ann Lila, PhD, PHHI director, Case is expecting to confirm anthocyanin properties and discover novel metabolites in blueberries.
“I am anticipating that there are either specific combinations of anthocyanins or other compounds in blueberries that make their antioxidant capabilities stronger,” she said.
Case is working with the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) to conduct her experiments. Also located at the NCRC, the DHMRI provides experimental design and access to technology, including high performance liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.
Additionally, by developing a base metabolome for blueberry and broccoli metabolites and the genes that regulate their activity, Case is laying the groundwork for future discoveries in crop science that may boost human health and alleviate chronic disease.
With a little help from her friends
Throughout the summer, Case’s P2EP interns optimized a protocol for measuring antioxidant activity. “There’s a lot of variability between previously conducted studies, and the interns are working on making sure the protocol we use is the best at representing the antioxidant capacity of our blueberries,” Case commented.
Through their work with protocol optimization, Case’s interns learned vital lessons about the scientific process. “When you’re in the classroom, a protocol is already printed out,” Case said. “There’s not a lot of trial and error involved.”
The interns also learned about the vital role of computer data analysis in scientific research. “You can produce a lot of data, but if you can’t do the analysis correctly, you can’t interpret anything from your results,” Case said.
Last, but not least
As she reaches the home stretch of her graduate program, Case reflects on how far she has come as a scientist since her undergraduate education in Ohio. She appreciates how her research into blueberry and broccoli as well as the different approaches and ideas that stemmed from her summer interns and work with mentor and PHHI scientist Xu “Sirius” Li have all shaped and directed her career as a scientist.
For more about P2EP, please visit their website at P2EP.org.
By Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing