This week, the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) welcomes 23 undergraduate students, 2 graduate students, and 2 high school students from eight North Carolina schools. These student interns aren’t just coming to visit, they are coming to work in the labs and gain valuable experience through the 2016 Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP).
Six graduate students from NCRC partners UNC Charlotte and the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) have been preparing for the summer where, in exchange for the assistance the interns will offer them by running samples, contributing to experimental plans, and analyzing data, the graduate students will serve as professional mentors, offering guidance based on their experiences to help the interns discern whether their career path will lead them back to the lab.
Weston Bussler, a PhD candidate in N.C. State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, is one of four graduate mentors who jump-started P2EP in 2013. Bussler works under the advisement of Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky at PHHI. He is beginning his fourth year as a PhD student, studying the anti-cancer properties of broccoli and anti-inflammatory capabilities of oats.
Bussler’s research revolves around the nutritional properties of food crops and the genetic connections that drive their healthy components. “I study how to combine agronomic breeding tools that have been used for years to make food crops that grow bigger, heartier, and more efficient,” Bussler explained. “We want to harness these same tools to improve nutrition in these same food crops.”
“We can maintain all of the gains that have been made in the breeding world, including processes that are important to the farmer,” Bussler said, which he points out includes high yields as well as nutrition. The goal of Bussler’s research is to maintain the healthiest nutritional components of each crop type and use their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties to reduce the prevalence of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
Bussler will supervise six P2EP interns this summer. They will work with him in designing cell-based models for studying human disease, with a large majority of the interns’ time spent fine-tuning experiments that may require problem-solving and troubleshooting. In original research, the outcome is not known; it’s a big step from the science class experiments students may be accustomed to, where the entire class follows the same protocol and gets the same results. Bussler encourages his interns to focus their attention on detail and work to develop skills to effectively communicate results. He helps students with analysis along the way and will work with them to develop a scientific poster for the summer research symposium that serves as a capstone event of the summer program.
By: Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing