To launch careers in science, Brooklyn Phillips, Marlinda Davis and Carolyn Munson knew they needed two things- a degree and hands-on laboratory experience.
At the NC Research Campus (NCRC), the three women found both. They are all working toward an applied science degree in biotechnology at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Biotechnology Training Center at the NCRC. They were summer interns in the Plants Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP), also being held at the NCRC.
P2EP is a hands-on, workforce development, research program that in its second year engages 40 students from 14 colleges and universities as well as two high schools. The P2EP interns work with industry and academic scientists to map the genomes of broccoli, blueberries, strawberries and oats. They are also creating a bioinformatic knowledge base of genetic data.
Mapping the Blueberry Genome
Phillips, 26 from Concord, NC, and Davis, 29 from Gold Hill, NC, worked in the laboratory of Allan Brown, PhD, with NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute, contributing to an ongoing project to map the complete blueberry genome. They helped identify parts of the blueberry genome associated with the production and regulation of anthocyanins, a compound in blueberries associated with health benefits in humans.
They used computer software to identify potential genes and ran samples of different blueberry varieties through gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gene sequencing.
“We are processing the results of their work,” Brown commented, “but I can say that their work made a valuable contribution, and I wish I could keep them full time.”
In fact, Phillips will be staying on working hourly in Brown’s lab.
Davis and Phillips know that their training at Rowan-Cabarrus prepared them for their success in P2EP. “I feel very prepared with the training I’ve received at RCCC,” Davis said. “We’re doing the PCR and electrophoresis as part of P2EP, a lot of that we did in genetics, recombinant DNA and lab techniques classes.”
Davis finished her biotechnology program at the end of the summer after completing an organic chemistry class and the P2EP internship. She’s hoping to find a job in a research laboratory.
Phillips graduated from Western Carolina in 2010 and started in the biotechnology degree program at Rowan-Cabarrus in 2013. She’ll finish in May 2015. She’s studying for the MCATs and a career in medicine.
“At the college, the classes are smaller so you get that one-on-one time with the teacher, and you are not afraid to raise your hand if you have a question. RCCC is hands on,” Phillips said.
The bioinformatics or the computational aspect of research was the biggest learning experience during P2EP. “I’ve done (gene) BLAST before,” Davis said. “We’ve gone so much more in depth at this internship as far as what we are doing to understand the anthocyanin pathway.”
Tracking Beta Glucan
For fellow Rowan-Cabarrus student, Carolyn Munson, 42 from Salisbury, NC, her P2EP internship has concentrated on bioinformatics with limited time in a laboratory. She is on the team mapping the oat genome to identify the beta glucan pathway. Beta glucan is a compound in oats that studies have shown can lower cholesterol.
“I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with plants,” she laughed. “I’ve done some lab work with genetics previously but mostly in mice. I have spent a lot of time in the computer lab this summer. We’ve been looking for markers to try and narrow down where the beta glucan is.”
Learning bioinformatics is a new experience for Munson, but one that she is applying in her other internship with Brian Bennett, PhD, of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute at the NCRC. Already, Munson can better understand Bennett’s research into atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) and can contribute on a new level to the work in his lab.
The internship has also verified that she made the right decision to switch from a career in merchandising to biotechnology. It is a switch Munson encourages others to consider, especially with resources like Rowan-Cabarrus and the NC Research Campus available.
Learn more about Rowan-Cabarrus’ associated degree in biotechnology and P2EP.